Afghanistan’s Herat Province 'Cleared Of Landmines'

The HALO Trust demining group says it has cleared Afghanistan's Herat Province of landmines as part of a 10-year project funded by the British government.

The organization said on February 15 that its Afghan staff had cleared more than 600 minefields in the western province, an effort it said has had a "major impact" on Herat’s potential for economic development.

"Around 75 percent of the population of the province is rural, and millions of square meters of prime agricultural land were unavailable because of the fear of landmines," the group said.

"With UK funding, HALO has made 40 million square meters of agricultural land safe to farm, and in doing so has improved food security for farming families."

It said schools, businesses, and railway infrastructure have been built on land cleared under the project.

British officials said about 125 people a year were killed or injured by mines in Herat until clearance started in 2008.

Many of the landmines were laid during the 1980s when local fighters battled the Soviet Union and in the 1990s when domestic fighters battled each other.

A HALO spokesman said nearly 80 percent of the minefields in the country had been cleared in the past 30 years.

HALO said landmine-clearing efforts are made difficult because of continued fighting between government forces and extremist groups, including the Taliban and Islamic State (IS).

A U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power after an invasion in 2001 and it has backed Kabul's efforts to hold power against the extremist groups.

With reporting by The Telegraph and Reuters