History of Minelaying

Landmines were laid in Angola during the 27 years of bitter conflict that followed independence from Portugal in 1975.

Government and Cuban forces laid extensive minefields around their bases, in and around towns as well as around infrastructure such as airports, water supply stations, electricity pylons and bridges. UNITA and other factions laid mines when they gained a permanent position or before withdrawing from a captured post.

As towns and strategic positions changed hands during the course of the war so more landmines were laid each time a town or position was occupied by a different combatant group. Both sides laid a significant number of anti-tank mines on primary, secondary and tertiary roads and to this day anti-tank mines on roads pose a far greater problem than in any other mine affected country.

The Problem

Even though Angola is a big country with wide open spaces the vast majority of landmines were laid in and around towns and villages that now have growing economies and expanding populations.

There are thus concentrations of landmines where there are concentrations of people. HALO has conducted extensive survey of the five provinces in which it operates and, as at November 2012, there are 553 confirmed minefields that require clearance.

Landmine accidents occur when people inadvertently wander into a minefield or are forced to take the risk of traveling through a minefield in order to collect water, fetch firewood or grow food for their families. Anti-tank mines on roads deny vehicular access to entire areas and strike unexpectedly causing multiple casualties. They disrupt equally the movement of people and goods, civilians and military, aid organizations and the government.

The Solution

The landmine problem in Angola is extensive and requires a degree of scale in order to clear all known minefields within a reasonable timeframe.

HALO started work in Angola in 1994 and currently employs over 650 Angolan staff and 5 full-time expatriates in support, spread over five provinces. Very considerable progress is being made; even so, HALO estimates that at the current rate and capacity, clearing Angola of landmines will take at least ten more years.

One HALO innovation developed to tackle the threat from anti-tank mines on roads, and that has helped open up Angola’s road system to normal traffic, has been the Road Threat Reduction (RTR) system. RTR is a two part process. First, a large metal detector is used to systematically sweep a road to locate metal cased anti-tank mines. Secondly, a heavy detonation trailer passes down the road. The trailer is designed to detonate any minimum metal or plastic anti-tank mines still capable of operating. This system is not classed as clearance per se but it does provide a significant reduction in threat and can be carried out at a much faster speed than clearance in order to cope with thousands of kilometers of suspect road with a low mine density threat.

Current donors are the US Department of State Office of Weapons Removal & Abatement (PM/WRA), the EC (European Development Fund), the Governments of Finland and the UK (FCO), and the Reece Foundation.

Weapons & Ammunition Disposal (WAD)

HALO’s WAD teams work in support of the Angolan Army, Air Force, Navy and Police to destroy the considerable stocks of weapons and ammunition that were amassed during the civil war.

By November 2012 HALO’s teams had destroyed more than 1,315 tons of ammunition, 483 heavy weapons systems and over 101,000 small arms / light weapons. The majority of ammunition destroyed by WAD teams consists of aircraft bombs but also includes guided missiles and cluster bomb sub-munitions.

The teams operate independently and are mobile across the entire country. They are equipped with heavy trucks and cranes to allow them to move and lift heavy weapons and ammunition and also have specialist tools for cutting weapons.

Requirement for Continued Clearance

Although HALO currently employs over 650 Angolan staff, only three years ago they numbered over 1,100.

Funding for the Angolan program has reduced over the years despite the fact that the problem of landmines remains serious and widespread – over the last five years HALO Angola deminers have found and destroyed an average of 690 landmines a month.

HALO has spent over 17 years clearing landmines in Angola and, with sufficient capacity in terms of deminers on the ground, could achieve a mine free Angola within a reasonable time frame. HALO feels that this is the time to increase international funding for mineclearance in Angola so that the horrific landmine legacy of Angola’s civil war can be laid to rest and Angola’s people allowed to flourish and grow. This is the time to focus on achieving a mine free Angola so that Angolans can be able to provide their families with sufficient food and clean water, collect firewood without losing their limbs and, ultimately, move beyond a subsistence livelihood and achieve their development dreams.

Angola is a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty but more focus on humanitarian clearance is required to make good on this commitment.

Program management - Senior staff

Gerhard Zank

HALO Angola Program Manager

Gerhard has worked for HALO since 1998. He has managed mineclearance programs in Mozambique, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Angola and Sri Lanka (immediate post-conflict). Having completed his role as the Southern Africa Desk Officer providing managerial guidance and support to HALO programs within that region, Gerhard has now returned to Angola for a second term as the Program Manager. BSc. Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Jose Pedro (Zeca) Agostinho

HALO Angola Deputy Program Manager

Zeca joined HALO Angola in 1995 and has been the Deputy Program Manager since 1999. He has a wide reaching role in the program and oversees personnel, legal, finance, reporting, logistics and donor and government liaison.  Zeca has been closely involved with the development of the Weapons & Ammunition Disposal project since its inception in 2005. 

Valdemar Gonçalves Fernandes

HALO Angola Huambo Operations Manager

Valdemar joined HALO in 1997 as a deminer and was quickly promoted to section commander, site supervisor and trained as EOD Class II Operator.  After a term as Provincial Operations Manager (POM) in Huambo province he took over as Location Manager for Huambo and oversaw clearance operations during the busy period following the end of the war in 2002.  After further mineclearance and management training with HALO in Cambodia, Valdemar became HALO Program Operations Manager in 2007.  He manages operational deployments across the program and oversees all operational training.

João Henrique Baptista (JB)

HALO Angola Bie Province Location Manager

João Henrique Baptista (also known as JB) joined HALO in 1995. Having attended EOD and minefield supervisors courses, he became Provincial Operations Manager for Huambo province. After widening his experience with HALO in Cambodia and Mozambique, he became overall HALO Angola Operations Manager, leaving a strong impression on the many international and local staff who worked alongside him. JB is now the Location Manager for Bié province, where he lives with his family.

Michael Rezene

HALO Angola Cuito Cuanavale Field Officer

Michael was formally a senior operations officer in Eritrea for HALO until 2002. He re-joined HALO in 2011 and after a spell of refresher training in mineclearance in Somaliland and Cambodia, underwent explosive ordnance training in Afghanistan. In 2012, Michael worked in Mozambique assisting in database management, before moving to Angola to take up the role of Field Officer.  Michael has extensive experience running operations in Cuito Cuanavale.

Joel Chiteculo José

HALO Angola Survey & Data Manager

Joel joined HALO in 2000 and after the war ended became a Survey Supervisor for the duration of the Angola Landmine Impact Survey (2004-2007). He was later promoted to the role of the Provincial Operations Manager for Benguela province and has unrivalled knowledge of the minefields in that province. In 2009 he travelled to Cambodia and trained in the use of the high tech HSTAMIDS ground penetrating radar detector. He currently manages all survey and data for the programme and liaises closely with colleagues at the national mineclearance authority CNIDAH.

Tim Gargan

HALO Angola Cuito Cuanavale Field Officer

Tim joined HALO in September 2013 and trained in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nagorno Karabakh and Somaliland before taking up the post of Cuito Cuanavale Field Officer in Angola.  Before joining HALO Tim was an infantry soldier and after completing the commissioning course transferred to the Royal Engineers.  He left as a Captain after a 7 year career.  In his last role he was responsible for training other soldiers for route search and IED clearance operations.