Legacy Contamination (1979 – 2001)
During the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, the country was heavily mined by Soviet forces, the Soviet-supported Republic of Afghanistan government, and opposing Mujahideen resistance groups. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, internal fighting between Mujahideen factions during the civil war from 1990 to 1996 saw more mines laid. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance also used mines during their 1996-2001 conflict. The overlapping geographies of these conflicts means that different factions have mined the same areas at different times, resulting in dense and complex explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination. This is often referred to as ‘legacy’ contamination, owing to the fact that these conflicts between 1979 and 2001 are no longer active, and opposing factions no longer attach strategic importance to explosive items.
During this time, about 6.2 million Afghans fled their homes for Pakistan and Iran; however, since the fall of the Taliban more than 5.8 million refugees (UNHCR Figures: 2002–2015) have returned home as the Government of Afghanistan, supported by the international community, has worked to bring political and economic stability to the country. Unanimous and country-wide support for humanitarian clearance of legacy contamination in Afghanistan has supported the return of refugees as well as internally displaced people.
Modern Contamination (2001-Current)
Since 2001, ongoing conflict between armed opposition groups and the government has continued to contaminate Afghanistan with ammunition, small arms and unexploded ordnance.
Furthermore, from 2006 improvised mines have been used by various armed opposition groups in conflict with the Government of Afghanistan. Improvised mines, also known as Victim Operated Improvised Explosive Devices (VO IEDs), have a significant impact on civilian life in Afghanistan as they cause accident or death, inhibit access to schools, markets and property, and also hinder national level socio-economic development via large-scale infrastructure development.
Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world with estimates of up to 640,000 land mines laid since 1979. More than three decades of conflict have also left the country littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO). As a result, over 31,000 casualties were recorded between 1979 and May 2018. Many additional casualties will have gone unrecorded so the actual total is almost certainly higher.
Agriculture and livestock support the subsistence of all rural communities in Afghanistan, who make up approximately 80% of the entire population. When land is known to be contaminated with landmines or other unexploded ordnance, whole communities are threatened with poverty through not being able to grow sufficient crops or graze their animals. Currently, over 220km2 of agricultural land in Afghanistan is contaminated with explosive remnants of war.
HALO began operating in Afghanistan in 1988 and has grown into the largest humanitarian landmine and ERW clearance programme in the world employing over 3,600 Afghans. The programme is completely Afghan-led and recruits many employees directly from mine and ERW impacted communities. Work with HALO offers many young men from impoverished rural communities the only steady legitimate employment they have ever known and their wages go back into their communities further increasing the impact of HALO’s work.
HALO teams deliver manual demining, mechanical demining, weapons and ammunition management, battle area clearance, surveys, and stockpile destruction in order to save lives and prevent injury through the clearance of contaminated land and the removal of stray ammunition and unexploded ordnance.
HALO is committed to facilitating implementation of the Government of Afghanistan’s Millennium Development Goals, and importantly the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, including the ten-year clearance extension to its Article 5 obligations.
As of July 2018, HALO Afghanistan had destroyed over 241,500 anti-personnel mines, over 6,700 anti-vehicle mines, over ten million items of large calibre ammunition and over 49 million bullets. HALO Afghanistan’s teams have also de-activated 2,800 heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery pieces, and chopped up more than 52,000 light weapons. HALO is currently locating and destroying an average of around 10,000 explosive items (with a gross weight of 70 tonnes) every month.
Almost 80% of all recorded mine and UXO contaminated land in Afghanistan has now been cleared. Much progress has been made, though the remaining 581km square kilometres means there is still some way to go to help Afghanistan meet its obligation to ensure clearance of all recorded hazards by 2023.
HALO are grateful for the generous funding we receive from governments, including the Netherlands, UK Department for International Development and Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, German Federal Foreign Office, Norway, US Department of State, Canada, Japan, Ireland, Finland and the Japanese NGO AAR Japan. Funding from sources such as the UN’s Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) has also enabled HALO to respond to humanitarian emergencies.