Afghanistan

History of Minelaying

Afghanistan was heavily mined by Soviet forces during the ten year occupation.

Further mine-laying was carried out by Najibullah Government troops, then during localised internecine fighting between Mujahideen groups and most latterly during fighting between Taliban militia and the Northern Alliance.

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.

The Problem

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 conflict described above millions of Afghans fled their homes and made their way to Pakistan and Iran in order to escape the conflict raging across their country. With prolonged periods of conflict in which front lines were shifting and there was extensive mine-laying, 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 during the various phases of conflict. However, since the fall of the Taliban over 4.49 million refugees (UNHCR Figures: March 2002 – May 2010) have returned to their homes as the Afghan Government has worked to bring political and economic stability to the country.

The Solution

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 continuous conflict that has beleaguered the country since the late 1970s. Over the last 20 years the programme has developed from two teams up to its current size of 150 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 freedom of movement in the Central and Northern regions of Afghanistan. It has also enabled HALO to work more or less without interference since 1988, regardless of the regime in power.

Between 1988 and 2013, HALO Afghanistan 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 3,000 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 in ten provinces of the Northern and Central regions and in Herat Province in the west of the country. The organisation is dedicated to building a local capacity and nowhere is this better exemplified than in Afghanistan where our 3,000 Afghan staff are managed by Afghans, with assistance from just two resident international staff. HALO also 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 20,000 explosive items (with a gross weight of 100 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 must continue unless the international community is 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 seek to maintain, and where possible expand its current capacity in order to clear all high and medium priority tasks within its area of operations.

Programme management - Senior staff

Dr Farid Homayoun

HALO Afghanistan Programme Manager

Farid is an Afghan national who has been the HALO Afghanistan Programme Manager since April 1995, and who was the first HALO Afghanistan employee recruited in 1988. Currently in charge of over 3,000 Afghans and international staff who work in Central, Northern and Western Regions of the Country, Farid is responsible for all aspects of HALO Trust operations across Afghanistan, and plays a vital role in liaison with the Government Authorities in Kabul. He is married with six children.

 

Tom Griffiths

HALO Afghanistan Operations Expatriate

Tom has worked for HALO since 2011.  He completed his initial training in Somaliland and Georgia before deploying to the Ivory Coast and helping develop HALO’s PSSM Project. He has most recently been running mineclearance operations as a Location Manager in central Mozambique.  Tom has a BSc Degree in Outdoor Studies.

Jamie Graham

HALO Afghanistan Expatriate HQ Support Officer

Jamie joined HALO in early 2013 and after having completed initial training in Cambodia, joined the HALO Afghanistan Programme in September 2013. He assists the programme through donor liaison and supporting the national management team. Jamie has a BA Hons in Philosophy and Politics.

Zabto Khan

HALO Afghanistan EOD Officer

Zabto joined the HALO Trust in October 1995 and currently works as the Programme EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Officer. Zabto plays a key role in training HALO field staff to identify and deal safely with munitions. He is a senior member of the HALO Operations team and has travelled to other HALO countries to conduct EOD training of national and international staff. He is married with five children.

 

Rahmatullah

HALO Afghanistan Programme Planning Officer

Rahmatullah joined the HALO Trust in 1997 and currently provides technical operations planning support and senior operational oversight to the Regional Operations Officers and the Programme Manager. Rahmatullah is also responsible for operations liaison with the Mine Action Coordination Centre for Afghanistan (MACCA) and plays a significant role in the preparation and translation of HALO Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). He is married with five children.

Sayed Qasim

HALO Afghanistan HQ Support Officer

Sayed Qasim (known by all as ‘SQ’) is the HQ Support Officer who has previously served as the Central Region Operations Officer and in many other regional operations roles.  SQ joined HALO in 1994.  He is married with five children.

 

Abdul Qahar

HALO Afghanistan Central Region Operations Officer

Abdul Qahar joined HALO in 1995. He is currently responsible for operational command of all mineclearance operations across the Central Region, over 1,300 national staff. He is married with six children.

 

Abdul Lafif

HALO Afghanistan Western Region Operations Officer

Latif joined HALO in 1997 and currently commands 500+ HALO staff in western Afghanistan. Latif has worked in many operational roles for the programme, including manual and mechanical clearance command appointments, and for WAD. Latif is married with six children.

Mohammed Zahir

HALO Afghanistan Northern Region Operations Officer

Zahir joined HALO in 1997 and currently commands 1,000+ staff in northern Afghanistan. Zahir has also worked in many operational command appointments across the programme, including 2008 – 2010 as Western Region Manual Manager, before returning to northern Afghanistan to become senior operations officer  from November 2010.

Haji Nesar Ahmad

HALO Afghanistan Mechanical Officer

Nesar joined the HALO Trust in November 1998. Since being trained in manual demining he has specialised in mechanical mineclearance and in 2004 was appointed as the Programme Mechanical Officer.  Nesar plays a key role in overall management of HALO’s 20+ mech teams deployed across the country and works in conjunction with the regional operations teams. He also helps to develop mechanical mineclearance SOPs, and to write up research & development reports. Haji Nesar is married with five children.

Dr Nasir Ahmad

HALO Afghanistan Programme Liaison Officer

Dr Nasir has worked for The HALO Trust in Afghanistan since 1991. He has held various positions, including Office Manager and Medical Support Doctor for HALO’s northern operations, North Project Manager for ten years, Weapons and Ammunition Disposal Project Manager for nine years, and more recently as Programme Liaison Officer.  Dr Nasir is married with six children.