During the ten year occupation of Afghanistan 1979-1989 parts of the country were heavily mined by Soviet forces, by Najibullah Government troops and by opposing Mujahideen groups. Further mines were laid by the warring factions during the civil war years 1990-1996 and again during fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance 1996-2001. The geography of the conflict meant that different factions mined the same areas at different times.
During these years 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 Afghan Government, supported by the international community, has worked to bring political and economic stability to the country.
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 23,500 casualties were recorded between 1979 and 2015. 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. Therefore, 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.
We began operating in Afghanistan in 1988 and now employ 2,400 Afghans. Our teams deliver manual demining, mechanical demining, surface and sub-surface battle area clearance, surveys, weapon and ammunition disposal and stockpile destruction. Our mission in Afghanistan is to save lives and prevent injury through the clearance of contaminated land and the removal of unexploded ordnance.
We are also 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.
By July 2015, HALO Afghanistan had destroyed over 791,244 mines (234,947 emplaced mines and 556,297 stockpiled mines), over ten million items of large calibre ammunition and over 49 million bullets. HALO teams have also de-activated 2,800 heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery pieces and chopped up more than 52,000 light weapons. We are 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 570 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.
We are grateful for the generous funding we receive from governments, including the Netherlands, UK DFID, German Federal Foreign Office, Norway, USDoS, 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 us to respond to humanitarian emergencies. But to enable us to rebuild more livelihoods in this war-torn country we need to grow our capacity and expand into more provinces.