August 15 2021 saw major political upheaval in Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan took power. The scenes in Kabul made headlines around the globe. But just a few weeks later The HALO Trust's thousands of Afghan staff were back at work, clearing explosives and making the land safe.
In the year since, HALO has expanded its operations, with the financial backing of its major donors, to new provinces while giving humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of a major earthquake.
Since August 2021, HALO teams have identified 43 sq. km of new land that is contaminated by minefields or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - with three quarters of that contamination being the IED threat, mostly in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan). This is amounts to 3.5 times the size of Heathrow airport in London.
With improved access to more of the country, and in response to the intensified fighting of recent years HALO has expanded its operations and in the first six months of 2022 destroyed 1,481 IEDs – three times as many as in all of 2021.
“In the heat of battle, few armies keep detailed maps of their minefields. Not to the standard needed to make playgrounds safe for children to play in. In the case of Afghanistan, many of the fighters who planted IEDs have been killed themselves. Only we can do this work safely.”
The IEDs that targeted US and Coalition troops since 2001 were usually detonated by a phone signal or a command wire. The IEDs that are devastating Afghan villages 12 months after the Taliban took power are much less sophisticated devices. Like traditional landmines, these IEDs are set off by the victim standing on a pressure plate, a simple switch attached to a battery, a detonator and a main charge – usually several kilograms of ammonium nitrate in a yellow plastic cooking oil container.
These yellow IEDs were planted in their tens of thousands in the fields and villages of Afghanistan. Wherever there was a front line or a strategic location, farmers are being driven off their land by IEDs in the middle of a a drought and ongoing hunger in Afghanistan.
“These are poor people. We cannot plant our wheat. We cannot feed our families. The land should feed us but it is killing us.”
In addition to IEDs since January HALO's Afghan staff have destroyed almost 3,000 items (2,917) of UXO, each of which could have resulted in multiple casualties. The increasing desperation and poverty stalking Afghanistan is driving some people to seek to sell scrap found around battlefields and former military bases. Almost every week HALO receives reports of children were injured and killed because of one explosive items.
In response to the proliferation of IEDs and unexploded ordnance HALO teams are responding to three times as many community requests as before August 2021. We are leaving our contact details with more communities, and as they find items, they are reporting them. We made 881 call-out responses in June 2022. The average before August was 250 per month.
HALO is also clearing landmines at the historic citadel of Bala Hissar in Kabul to ensure an important cultural restoration project can get under way safely.
In addition to explosives clearance HALO was a first responder to epicentre of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in the eastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. The earthquake killed an estimated 1,200 people and left tens of thousands homeless and without food or water.
HALO provided local people with medical support, food and rubble clearance. We received funding to continue rubble clearance for several months in the aftermath of the quake. HALO teams have also been asked to support people affected by flash floods – reported to have killed 400 people in recent months.