History of Minelaying
Afghanistan was heavily mined by Soviet forces during the ten year occupation of 1979-1989.
Further mine-laying was carried out by Najibullah Government troops, then during localised internecine fighting between Mujahideen groups in the mid-1990s, and most latterly during fighting between Taliban militia and the Northern Alliance from 1996-2001.
All defending forces laid mines to protect their Main Supply Routes (particularly the road north from Kabul to the old Soviet border), their airfields, military posts around key towns, and the actual front lines. The geography of the conflict meant that different factions have mined the same areas at different times.
Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world, with HALO estimates of up to 640,000 mines laid since 1979.
During the periods of fighting, millions of Afghans fled their homes and made their way to Pakistan and Iran in order to escape the crossfire. With prolonged periods of conflict in which front lines shifted and mines were laid, embattled residential areas and agricultural land became so dangerous that many Afghan families felt the safest place to be was outside of Afghanistan.
Upwards of 6.2 million Afghans were reported as having left Afghanistan for Pakistan and Iran alone between 1979 and 2001. However, since the fall of the Taliban over 4.49 million refugees (UNHCR Figures: March 2002 – May 2010) have returned home as the Afghan Government, supported by the international community, has worked to bring political and economic stability to the country.
HALO’s humanitarian mineclearance project in Afghanistan remains the oldest and largest in the world.
HALO introduced to the world the concept of humanitarian mineclearance in 1988 and has continued clearing mines in Afghanistan despite the fragile political situation bought on by the instability of the last forty years. Since the early 1990s the programme has grown in size to its current strength of over one hundred and fifty teams. HALO policy in Afghanistan has been based on adherence to principles of good governance and recruiting a multi-ethnic workforce, and this has played a large part in guaranteeing HALO’s relative freedom of movement across the Central and Northern regions of Afghanistan. It has also enabled HALO to work more or less without interference, regardless of the regime in power.
By December 2013, HALO Afghanistan had destroyed over 766,908 mines (225,908 emplaced mines and 541,000 stockpiled mines), 10+ million items of large calibre ammunition and 45.6+ million bullets.
HALO Afghanistan currently has an operational capacity employing over 3,250 Afghans, and runs a mixture of manual, mechanical, survey/EOD, battle area clearance (BAC) and weapon and ammunition disposal (WAD) teams. HALO’s current area of operations, excluding the WAD teams who work in every region of the country, is throughout the provinces of the Northern and Central regions, in certain of the country’s South-Eastern provinces, and in Herat Province in the Western Region. The organisation is dedicated to building a local capacity and nowhere is this better exemplified than in Afghanistan where HALO’s 3,250 Afghan staff are managed by Afghans, with assistance from just two resident international staff. HALO continues to be the largest implementing agency of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA).
Weapons & Ammunition Disposal (WAD)
Initially the WAD teams concentrated on the disposal of the significant quantities of degraded and unstable ammunition that were amassed across the country after the formation of the present government.
Over the course of its first five years, the HALO WAD Afghanistan project destroyed more than five million explosive items and forty millions small arms rounds. It also deactivated 2,800 heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery pieces and chopped up more than 50,000 light weapons. After this phase of the disarmament process had been completed, HALO’s focus became the location and destruction of ammunition stocks lying outside of direct government control.
HALO now deploys WAD survey teams to scout out hidden caches of ammunition, and disposal teams to excavate the caches and then destroy the ammunition. Currently the HALO WAD teams are locating and destroying an average of around 10,000 explosive items (with a gross weight of 70 tonnes) every month. This monthly total does not include smaller items such as small arms rounds that the teams destroy.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
Humanitarian mineclearance in Afghanistan needs to continue unless the Afghan Government and the international community are prepared to accept thousands of civilian casualties for decades to come.
Afghanistan has recorded over 20,500 mine and ERW casualties between 1979 and 2013, though the number unrecorded means the total is likely to be significantly higher. It is HALO’s strong belief that only through maintaining an appropriate scale of clearance operations can Afghanistan’s mine problem be addressed so that casualties are avoided and the population is no longer impacted by the presence of explosive remnants of war.
It is HALO’s plan to maintain, and as funding allows to increase its current capacity in order to clear all high and medium priority tasks within its area of operations, and to expand that area of operations into other mine and ERW impacted provinces.