The phrase improvised explosive device, or its acronym IED, has passed into the common usage of news reporters since the start of the 21st Century, driven there by their coverage of the wars and insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The phrase itself dates from the 1970s and its definition covers an enormously wide range of possible types, trigger mechanisms and delivery methods.

For The HALO Trust overriding issue is the way that they affect people and communities recovering from conflict.

For those that are affected, IEDs represent another form of explosive hazard that needs to be dealt with in order to safeguard lives and livelihoods. In the setting of rural Afghanistan, one of the places where HALO has experience of dealing with them, through interviews and other information gathering, we can build up a picture of the IED threat. This survey process gives us an understanding of the scale of the problem and helps us prioritise clearance with stakeholders.

The importance of consent

For neutral humanitarian operators like HALO, it is important to establish whether access can be granted to the areas where IEDs have been laid and whether consent can be obtained for the destruction or removal of them.

In terms of access, we need to determine whether local hostilities have really ceased, by understanding the local powerbrokers and the history of recent conflict. For consent, it is necessary to understand whether those who laid the IED still have an interest in it and whether there might be reprisals against the community or HALO’s staff if an IED is destroyed or removed. In some parts of Afghanistan people have been told they face fines or even death if IEDs are tampered with.

For a humanitarian operator to uphold the principle to ‘do no harm’, if there is no consent for the destruction or removal of an IED, then it is not the right time to deal with that IED – so we may wait for consent or lobby to obtain it. We work closely with communities affected by IEDs to secure consent.

For HALO the principles of neutrality, impartiality, equality and humanity, and to have a reputation for quality work, all aid access to begin clearance. Building a reputation takes time. It can be helped by employing and training people from affected communities to clear the IEDs.

Community & Employment

Employment with a demining organisation offers a legitimate income that supports families and communities, improving socio‐economic conditions and providing stability. It can discourage young men and women of fighting age from joining armed groups. For HALO’s part, it has a long history of taking on former combatants. Employment with HALO allows people to protect their communities. We believe the model of employing people locally rather than relying on internationals is a model that should be applied to the clearance of IEDs, as in other areas of humanitarian demining. Working closely with communities is an essential first step in protecting them.

In Afghanistan, HALO is training staff by re‐creating the types of IEDs and the conditions that they are likely to face with training provided by international experts. The approach blends the techniques of traditional landmine clearance with techniques developed by security forces. We have introduced new detecting technology capable of finding IED components.

Tackling unexploded bombs and landmines restricts the availability of materials that could be used in IEDs. In southern Syria, where we have been conducting clearance since late 2017, HALO teams encounter evidence of explosive harvesting from anti‐vehicle mines and artillery shells.

In Afghanistan IEDs are largely located in rural areas, while in the Middle East and North Africa conflict has been focused around cities like Aleppo, Fallujah, Mosul and Sirte. In an urban settings IEDs lie in amongst rubble, infrastructure has been devastated and local people often displaced. HALO has started its response to this crisis with plans for a large‐scale IED/mine action in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.


The scale of the challenge in the Middle East’s shattered cities is enormous, but it is not the first on this scale that HALO has faced.

In the 1990s in Kabul fighting between Mujahedin groups caused massive destruction to the west of the city which displaced the local population. HALO worked with other operators to clear the area and destroyed over 4,700 mines and 123,000 items of explosive ordnance as well as booby traps and IEDs. Learn more about the rebuilding of West Kabul.

Over 1.5 million people now live in and around West Kabul in a thriving environment. In Kabul HALO first used machines adapted from the construction industry to support clearance. Machines were used with great effect and were then adopted by HALO globally. 

HALO plans to address the current problem of urban contamination by combining years of experience in humanitarian clearance with innovative new methods. In addition to using manual deminers with the latest detecting technologies, we see the need to industrialise the clearance process and to increase the use of machines adapted from other sectors to address the problem. We are actively working with private companies, manufacturers, research and development organisations, and engineers to consider the correct type and combination of armoured crushers, sifters, excavators and diggers required to support clearance of cities safely and quickly. We will export our working model, which will start in Fallujah, to cities in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other countries.

In addition to innovative clearance technology, we’re investing in new methods of clearing dangerous environments. In Syria, our locally-recruited staff are supervised by international experts based outside of the country. We are using communication technology to provide this supervision and believe it has an important role to play in places where it is not possible to deploy outsiders.

New methods and strong local contacts to generate consent for clearance are the key to HALO’s approach to the challenge of the IED.