In recent years GCS has become increasingly active in areas where conflicts have not entirely come to an end. Staying on the ground in such situations comes with a certain element of risk – and it is a decision that GCS does not take lightly.
One example is Libya, where GCS has been present (both with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts and one of its machines, the GCS-100) since the middle of 2018. Since the fall of long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the absence of a strong central government and security forces has resulted in hundreds of armed groups and militias having become embroiled in a complex range of tensions throughout the country. GCS was finalising a project with local NGO partners, the Free Fields Foundation in April, when tensions sharply escalated in the region. General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) had advanced on Tripoli and clashed with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) forces.
Despite mounting tensions, the teams successfully finished the project. Committed to supporting efforts to bring about peace, stability and prosperity to Libya, the teams carried out the removal of more than 200 tons of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in Misrata, which greatly reduced the threat to the local population, as well as potential looting by criminal and terrorist groups. Our mine clearance activities in Libya have been actively supported by the Libyan Mine Action Center (LibMAC) who ensure that all work is performed according to the Libyan Mine Action Standards (LibMAS).
Currently, one of our IMAS EOD Level 3+ experts is on the ground in Benghazi in support of another Free Fields Foundation humanitarian mine action project. Training is underway and operations are expected to commence at the end of August. The aim of the mine action project is to enhance safe movement of conflict-affected populations and the humanitarian actors in Benghazi through the location and removal of explosive hazards. Yet, while this meaningful work goes on, the threat of asymmetric conflict remains very real in Libya – tragically, recently, a bomb laden vehicle exploded outside a shopping mall in the city taking the lives of at least 3 UN staff.
“The safety of our staff is of paramount priority, so we are keeping very close watch on ongoing security challenges,” says GCS CEO Philipp von Michaelis. “We listen carefully to our local partners who are on site and can assess the gravity of the situation much better than us.”
During Eid both sides of the conflict agreed to a truce, temporarily giving Libya some respite from its legacy of violence. GCS hopes that a lasting ceasefire is soon reached and that the country can transition to a peaceful democratic process. This would pave the way for future stabilisation efforts and for the serious threat of explosive hazards to the civilian population, medical facilities, and education, to be effectively and safely removed from the ground.