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Pashtuns=Afghans victims of Unexploded munitions a dangerous legacy of war in AFG

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Published on Jun 8, 2012

(CNN) -- The sounds of battle echo across a desolate stretch of land just east of Bagram Air Base, America's biggest base in Afghanistan. As it turns out, it's just battle practice.
"Training exercises on our big weapons to include our small arms," explains Sergeant 1st Class Steve Cunningham, of the 381st Military Police Unit. "Just put some ammo down range. The Afghan people let us do this to make sure our weapons stay functional for future missions."
He says rehearsals like this help his troops keep their skills sharp, adding that they're skills U.S. troops need to keep Afghans safe.
But villagers living around the East River Range couldn't disagree more -- they argue U.S. military exercises here are putting them in danger.
"Kids wander around and touch what they find," says Wali Muhammad Kuchi, a nomadic shepherd who is sitting across the road watching soldiers fire volleys of rounds into the mountainside. "These kids, they don't know what is and isn't full of explosives."Bombers kill dozens in Afghanistan Top U.S. General's plan for Afghanistan Part 2: U.S. plan for Afghanistan
A handful of boys standing around him are waiting for the soldiers to leave. They'll scavenge for left over metal casings and fragments to sell for much needed cash for their families.
One boy tells us one kilogram, or about 2.2 pounds, of scrap metal will earn him roughly 150 Afghanis, or $3.
Wali Muhammad lost a leg and an arm to Soviet landmines in the 1980s, and he worries for the safety of his 13 year-old son, Esakhil -- one of the boys who will soon be out in the range searching for metal.
According to Mohammed Sediq Rashid, Chief of Operations of the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (or MACCA), at least 12 civilians from villages surrounding the range area have been maimed by unexploded ordnance, or UXOs, in the last four years. At least one was killed.
The shepherds are also at risk. They graze their sheep on slopes littered with bullets, grenades, and in a recent case, an anti-aircraft rocket, according to the U.S. military.
In a frayed cloth tent next to the range, we find 17 year-old Abdul Rahman. He winces from pain as he tells us how he lost part of his left arm.
"We are nomads. We take our herds to the mountain site for feeding. I saw something there," describes Abdul Rahman. "When I picked it up and then hit it with a stone it exploded."
His father, Zayar Gul, recounts how he rushed his son to nearby Bagram Air Base for emergency treatment. He says they were turned away by local guards at the gate. A U.S. military official at the base said he wasn't aware of the case.
Abdul Rahman was eventually taken to the Kabul Emergency Surgical Center, and then transferred to an eye hospital to save his sight. Four weeks after the explosion, he's still wearing sunglasses to protect his injured eyes.
The 17-year-old also lost part of his other arm in a similar explosion several years ago. He believes that in both incidents he was hurt by unexploded U.S. ordnance.
As Gul describes what happened to his son, his anger grows.
"It wasn't just something thrown from the sky. If it wasn't for the Americans doing their military exercises here, why would my son have been blown up?"
Gul's leg was severed by a Soviet era landmine, but he says it's U.S. forces who are now sowing destruction.
"We can't do any other kind of work," says Gul, "We don't have houses and we can't go to the cities. But they, the Americans, have made this place like fire for us."All along the 20 kilometer (12.4 mile) stretch of flat terrain at East River Range is wide open land, with very little to indicate there's any danger. Fencing is nonexistent, and the few signs there warning that this area is a firing range are in faded English. For a largely illiterate population that speaks mostly Dari and Pashto, it's almost impossible for them to understand their lives are at risk.
Three decades of successive wars made Afghanistan one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. But now, UXOs account for three times as many casualties as mines -- and most of them are children, according to MACCA.
United Nations estimates that roughly 10 million landmines still remain in Afghanistan. Most of them are Soviet made, the deadly legacy left over from Afghanistan's war with that country.

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