Project MASAM’s foray into the race against Houthis in Yemen mines part I

Press Release | Republic Underground, Timberwolf-Phoenix Media LLC 

April 22, 2021 

On April 22, Republic Underground interview Chris Clark and Ousama Algosaibi from Project MASAM of Saudi Arabia. Tsukerman addressed the audience stating that the live-streamed event was meant to engage western audiences and educate them on the positive contributions the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making to the human rights effort in Yemen, as the nation continues to be devastated by the Houthi rebel incursion.

“With us today are special guests Ousama Algosaibi and Chris Clark with Project MASAM, which is a Saudi project for landmine clearance in Yemen affiliated with King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center,” said Tsukerman. She noted that the event was a direct follow up of a special event hosted by Project MASAM, which transpired a couple of weeks ago. She described the positive impact that the project has had on the lives of people in Yemen, but noted that the project is not well-covered by the western media.

“In the west, there is not a lot of information, so today we will be discussing what the project is, how and when it started, and where it’s going. Thank you, gentlemen, welcome,” said Tsukerman, starting with a little bit of background on the project. She turned the floor over to Algosaibi for more background on the origins of the initiative.

 

“Good evening. MASAM started as an idea in the middle of 2017. We were preparing a study for Yemen and were asked to do a more comprehensive study for Yemen. We signed an agreement with the Yemeni government in December 2017, and we were in Yemen by February 2018,” he noted that the the project first entered Yemen in February 2018 to prepare the ground for the rest of the project to begin their work. “We started our work in the middle of 2018 at full speed,” he stated, noting that MASAM was one of the few projects in Yemen that had not stopped its regular processes in Yemen for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“MASAM actually means ‘pores’ you know, like the pores of the skin,” he noted that the name was chosen as symbolic for cleansing Yemen of its ‘infection’ of landmines.

“Removing landmines from Yemen giving the land in Yemen the space to breathe after being infected for so many years by landmines. MASAM consists of 450 people inside Yemen,” he stated that these people were broken down into 32 teams, security, logistics, and so forth.

“How many landmines has the Project had to remove? What was going on before MASAM ended up in Yemen?” asked Tsukerman.

“The landmines issue in Yemen is an old story. Landmines existed in Yemen before the existing conflict, but before the existing conflict, Yemen was about to announce itself as a landmine-free country, but only in regards to anti-personnel mines and not anti-tank mines. Because Yemen was a signatory in the anti-landmine ban treaty. In the existing conflict, we found that al-Houthi has gone above and beyond any imaginable thing in planting landmines in Yemen,” said Algosaibi, noting that the landmines being removed today were 85 percent from the locally manufactured Houthi rebellion’s plants and not from pre-existing conflicts.

“We’re not calling them Russian mines or Eastern European mines anymore, because these are mostly all locally made landmines. The numbers? Nobody knows about the numbers of those that have been planted in the ground. Everybody is estimating between 1 and 2 million new landmines that have been laid by the Houthis in the recent conflict.”
He stated that MASAM had so far cleared nearly 255,000 landmines, booby traps, IEDs, and other explosive devices since its time in the region.

“Yet, at the same time, we are removing and destroying those mines, the Houthi are still planting mines. So, it’s a race for who is faster than the other. Because the Houthis have not stopped at all in the areas that they have visited, been in, attack, or withdrew from. There are always mines there,” said Algoisabi.

Tsukerman then asked what regions MASAM operated in.

“MASAM operates in all the liberated regions of Yemen. I’ll also put it another way, MASAM works in any areas that our teams can reach safely. We don’t work on fronts so we have nothing to do with the existing conflict that goes on at the moment,” said Algosaibi, noting that the project had found mines in an array of places including schools villages, beaches, roads that led to villages, in far away and civilian populated areas.

“So, essentially, is it correct to say the mines that have been planted could be in any civilian area at this point?” asked Tsukerman.

“Anywhere that al-Houthi has been, yes, you will find landmines and IEDs there, ” said Algosaibi.

Tsukerman then turned the floor over to Clark, and asked him more of his background with the project, and what his experience was working with it. 

“My name’s Chris, Chris Clark, I’m the Director of Special Projects for the UK-based company Safe Lane who have been working in this field for decades,” he stated that his company was very honored to have been present and active in helping the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in the demining process. 

“In Yemen, we have a number of technical experts who train the Yemeni deminers both in the use of the best equipment available, but also the safe process for prepping the ground for safe mine removal,” said Clark, noting that there is an international standard for the safe conduct of removing mines. He noted that all Safe Lane and Project MASAM had to align all of their training in accordance with that standard. The trouble was that, as Algosaibi had said, there is a race of Houthis versus MASAM for mine removal. 

“The balance of that is that we have to do it safely and properly, which we do,” noted Clark. 

Clark also addressed the technical challenges that the teams faced because almost all mines MASAM currently encounters are unconventional.

 

“They’re not all off the shelf from a military store somewhere. They’re similar but they have very specific non-similarities, so each one is potentially different, so we have to make sure we’re on top of all of the changing technical aspects there.”

More in-depth follow-up and analyses to come. Stay tuned for more.