The Rebirth of West Kabul one of the biggest urban clearance operations since wwII

In May 1992 the Afghan capital Kabul was captured by the Mujahedin. In the following two years, fierce inter-factional fighting engulfed the city as competing warlords vied for control of ministries and key districts. After surviving years of Russian occupation intact, the city was ravaged and whole suburbs reduced to rubble. Thousands of civilians were killed amid the shooting, rocket cross-fire and artillery exchanges.

In west and south Kabul, buildings along the rubble-strewn streets were mined, booby-trapped and turned into heavily defended positions along a frontline that separated the warring factions. Mines were laid across streets, in compounds, on the ground and upper floors of houses, and in basements. The areas around the University of Kabul, the Kabul Zoo, the Aliabad Hospital, and the suburb of Koti Sangi were all mined, fought over, abandoned and heavily damaged.

Funded by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, British Clothworkers Guild and Anti-Landmijn Stichting, HALO brought demining teams into West Kabul in April 1995 when fighting in the city subsided. Survey and clearance operations began. During the following four years HALO expanded its city clearance as the extent of the minelaying and destruction became obvious, and the civilian casualties mounted alarmingly.

Working with a number of Afghan demining agencies, the clearance operation in West Kabul was one of the largest of its kind undertaken anywhere since World War II.

At the height of clearance operations, HALO was deploying 600 deminers daily in the west of the city. It was here that the use of armoured construction plant was pioneered. HALO developed new procedures and imported and deployed armoured shovels, backhoes, bulldozers, a tracked crane and a towed stone crusher. Some have likened the operation to sifting the explosives from West Kabul through a giant mechanised sieve.

This early mechanical work in Kabul informed much of the subsequent development of machines in mine action all over the world.

Only by adapting mechanised equipment could HALO clear such a large, densely contaminated area.
HALO demining operations in west Kabul used mechanical and manual techniques for the first time.
The area in green was once mined or littered with UXO - cleared by HALO with U.S. support.

By the end of 1999, HALO had cleared 400 acres of suburban minefields, over 15 square miles of battlefields, and destroyed over 4,700 mines and 123,000 items of unexploded ordnance.

The impact of this work was lifesaving for the returning homeowners, and eventually the entire western districts of the city. Families returned to their decimated homes and lands, which had been riddled with mines and explosives. Once cleared people had the opportunity to rebuild.

Today west Kabul is a thriving and bustling part of the capital.

As of March 2017, 1.5 million people live in and around West Kabul.

Without funding from the U.S. and other donors the development and expansion of Kabul to support urban growth and economic activity would not have been possible.

Communities now attend mosques; families shop at the local bazaars; children go to school; people travel to work; and all without the fear of explosive remnants of war.

The streets of West Kabul see thousands of cars and people going about their daily routine.

When the Afghans of West Kabul embark on a journey, they face traffic and thousands of busy people. But no more mines.

Case Study: Kabul University

Kabul University, in west Kabul, was established in 1931 and was focal point for debate, politics and, ultimately, conflict for many years.

The campus itself became a frontline between warring parties in 1992. Classrooms, books and treasured accounts of university life were destroyed; mines were laid and explosive debris scattered across the campus.

The Taliban-era also proved difficult for the university’s open ethos. Women were banned from attending for over five years.

Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) and HALO were initially funded to clear the battle areas around Kabul University. Then in 1995 and 1996 HALO was deployed to clear mines found within the campus walls.

Since then, the expansion of the campus and increasing student numbers have brought to light further areas of contamination.

From September 2015 to September 2016 HALO deployed more teams to conduct clearance in areas designated for development.

These tasks were prioritized due to their proximity to university buildings, with students and staff regularly passing through the land.

U.S. funded teams cleared 64 acres from 2015 - 2016.

New buildings, including a women’s dormitory, have increased the number of young people who can seek a good education in Afghanistan. This would not have been possible without land released to the university after U.S.-funded clearance.

The women’s dormitory was built right next to contaminated land that female students passed through to reach their building.

Lila is 23 years old from Ghor province, nine hours drive from Kabul. The women’s dormitory allows her to stay in the city and study because Ghor is too far to travel daily and is often cut off by heavy snow in winter. Lila is studying nursing in the faculty building some distance from the dormitory. She can now pass freely through the university to attend lectures without fear of mines or explosive debris.

Every year, over 20,000 students benefit from HALO clearance at Kabul University. They come from every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Case Study: Kabul Medical University

With one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, Afghanistan badly needs more doctors and nurses. The clearance of West Kabul allowed the country's medical teaching university to re-open its doors and expand. There is now a robust network of hospitals in West Kabul to combat infant mortality, and provide general medical care for Afghans.

Case Study: Kabul Zoo

Opened in 1967, Kabul's famous zoo survived through many conflicts - although it suffered significant damage during the 1990s civil war; the aquarium was damaged by shelling, and combatants took the deer and rabbits for food. Its location in West Kabul made it inaccessible because of the mines and explosive debris in the surrounding streets.

Today, thanks to mine clearance, it is open and reborn. On Thursdays and Fridays over 3,000 families visit the zoo - able to enjoy some relaxation on the weekend.

Such has been the pace and success of redevelopment in West Kabul, that without the records, photos and testimony of those who took part in the clearance, the impact of humanitarian mine clearance would be lost from the collective memory of this scarred capital.

In 2017, West Kabul is an example of the immense impact HALO can make with donor support in hugely contaminated urban battlezones.

At HALO Afghanistan we save lives and put entire communities back on their feet.

HALO would like to thank the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, British Clothworkers Guild and Anti-Landmijn Stichting for their generous support.

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