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Last Updated: 18 October 2010

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Commitment to the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Convention on Cluster Munitions status


Participation in Convention on Cluster Munitions meetings

Attended global conferences in Berlin in June 2009 and Santiago in June 2010, as well as a regional meeting in Bali in November 2009

Key developments

Ratification process underway; Afghanistan has stated it has no stocks of cluster munitions


The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo on 3 December 2008. In June 2010, at the International Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Santiago, Chile, Afghanistan announced that it had taken “firm steps” toward ratification, and hoped to finish the process prior to the First Meeting of States Parties in November 2010.[1]

In December 2008, a Deputy Minister expressed strong support for the convention and early ratification in a meeting with representatives of the CMC, and explained the ratification process.[2] 

Afghanistan has been active in international efforts to promote the convention. In addition to the global meeting in Santiago, it participated in the Berlin Conference on the Destruction of Cluster Munitions in June 2009 and the Regional Conference on the Promotion and Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2009.

Afghanistan participated in most of the preparatory meetings of the Oslo Process that created the convention, but it did not attend the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008, even as an observer.[3] Afghanistan’s signature of the convention came unexpectedly near the end of the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo in December 2008 when the Afghan representative announced that within the past two hours he had received instructions and authorization to sign.[4] 

Afghanistan has not yet made known its views on several important issues related to interpretation and implementation of the convention, including the prohibition on transit, the prohibition on assistance during joint military operations with states not party that may use cluster munitions, the prohibition on foreign stockpiling, and the prohibition on investment in production of cluster munitions.

Afghanistan is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in April 1981, but has never ratified it, and thus is not a party to the CCW or its Protocol V on explosive remnants of war.

Use, production, transfer, and stockpiling

In August 2010, Afghanistan confirmed that it has not used, produced, or transferred cluster munitions.[5] 

At the Santiago conference in June 2010, Afghanistan told other states that it has no cluster munition stockpiles.[6] Upon inquiries from Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that it has no cluster munitions in its depots, and said that “about 113,196 items containing 29,559 kilograms” of old Soviet stocks had been destroyed.[7]

In 2002, Australian photographer John Rodsted documented an estimated 60,000 tons (60 million kg) of abandoned Soviet-type submunitions, bulk storage containers (cassettes), and other paraphernalia abandoned at an area in Bagram airbase, outside Kabul.[8]

There is no clear accounting of former stockpiles in Afghanistan. Jane’s Information Group has listed Afghanistan as possessing KMGU dispensers and RBK-250/275 cluster bombs.[9] Standard international reference sources also list it as possessing Grad 122mm and Uragan 220mm surface-to-surface rockets, but it is not known if these included versions with submunition payloads.[10] 

Some of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops operating in Afghanistan have been equipped with cluster munitions. The current status of any possible stockpiles is not known. For several years, ISAF has had a policy against using cluster munitions.[11]

Soviet forces used air-dropped and rocket-delivered cluster munitions during their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979–1989.[12] A non-state armed group used rocket-delivered cluster munitions during the civil war in the 1990s.[13] Between October 2001 and early 2002, United States aircraft dropped 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 bomblets in 232 strikes on locations throughout the country.[14] Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor is not aware of additional cluster strikes since that time.

Cluster Munition Remnants

Afghanistan has a continuing threat from cluster munition remnants. However, most of the contamination is thought to have been removed during clearance operations in 2002–2003 guided by US cluster strike data. Clearance operators say they still encounter both NATO and Soviet unexploded submunitions but only in small numbers.[15]

Clearance of cluster munition remnants

The Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) has recorded clearance by HALO Trust and Mine Clearance Planning Agency of 43 cluster munition sites since 2004 covering a total area of 3.2km2. Of these, six sites covering a total of 670,276m2 were reportedly cleared in 2009.[16]

HALO cleared a total of 2,607 unexploded submunitions in 2009, of which 331 were NATO items and 2,276 were Soviet submunitions.[17] G4S also reported clearing areas contaminated with US M-42 submunitions close to Camp Hero, near Kandahar, in 2009.[18]

Demining organizations continue to find unexploded submunitions used by Soviet forces, usually in small numbers. Hemayatbrothers Demining International, working on a US Army Corps of Engineers contract at Bagram airbase, reported finding substantial numbers of abandoned submunitions, many of them still in packing cases. The Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR) also reported finding unexploded Russian submunitions on the border with Pakistan, which was bombed by Soviet and Afghan forces.[19]

[1] Statement of Afghanistan, International Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Santiago, 8 June 2010. Notes by AOAV/HRW.

[2] CMC/ICBL meeting with Suraya Paykan, Deputy Minister for Martyrs and Disabled Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled, Second Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, Cartagena, 3 December 2009. She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the process. The convention must first be translated into Dari and Pashto. Ratification legislation must be approved first by the Ministry of Justice, then the Cabinet, and then the Parliament.

[3] For details on Afghanistan’s cluster munition policy and practice through early 2009, see Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 27–28.

[4] Until that morning Afghanistan had not been willing to sign due to a “principled position we had maintained since beginning of the Oslo Process as a reflection of Afghanistan’s current situation. We are effectively at war and any disarmament measure at a time of war requires very cautious treatment.” Statement by Amb. Jawed Ludin, Representative of Afghanistan to Norway, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008.

[5] Response to Monitor questionnaire by MACCA, “Landmine and cluster munitions Monitoring Report 2010,” received by from email Akhshid Javid, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN in Geneva, 19 August 2010. The response to a question about government use, production, transfer and stockpiling was, “There is no evidence to suggest this.”

[6] Statement of Afghanistan, International Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Santiago, 8 June 2010. Notes by AOAV/HRW.

[7] Information provided by the Chief of Ammunition Management, Ministry of Defense to MACCA, received by Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor in an email from MACCA, 9 August 2010.

[8] See for example, Norwegian People’s Aid, “PTAB,” undated, npaid.websys.no.

[9] Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2008, CD-edition, 15 January 2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[10] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2005–2006 (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 233; and Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2008, CD-edition, 15 January 2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[11] In July 2010, Poland confirmed to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor that the Polish Military Contingent in Afghanistan “has been equipped with 98mm mortars and the appropriate cluster munitions,” while noting, “To date, cluster munitions have never been used in combat in Afghanistan” by Polish forces. Poland also confirmed that the ISAF policy of no use of cluster munitions remains in effect, and stated that this policy has been incorporated into Polish rules of engagement. Letter DPB 2591/16/10/80613 from Marek Szcygiel, Deputy Director, Security Policy Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, 16 July 2010.

[12] CMC, “Cluster Munitions in the Asia-Pacific Region,” October 2008, prepared by Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Human Rights Watch, “Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and their Use by the United States in Afghanistan,” Vol. 14, No. 7 (G), December 2002, www.hrw.org.

[15] Interviews with demining operators, Kabul, 12–18 June 2010. HALO, the biggest demining operator in Afghanistan, reported that it continues to find abandoned Soviet cluster munitions but has not cleared a Soviet cluster strike in more than five years. It finds only occasional unexploded Soviet submunitions in the course of demining or battle area clearance operations. HALO reported it cleared 9,000 unexploded US submunitions in 2002–2003 and a further 1,780 unexploded submunitions between 2004 and 2008. In 2009, it cleared 2,607 unexploded submunitions. Email from Ollie Pile, Weapons and Ammunition Disposal Officer, HALO, 30 June 2009; and email from Tom Dibb, Senior Operations Manager, HALO, 3 June 2010.

[16] MACCA records cleared submunitions under UXO, not as a separate item. Email from MACCA, 14 July 2010.

[17] Email from Tom Dibb, HALO, 23 July 2010.

[18] Interview with Gus Melin, Country Operations Manager, G4S, Kabul, 14 June 2010.

[19] Interviews with Kefayatullah Eblagh, Director, Afghan Technical Consultants, and Zekra Payab, Deputy Director, OMAR, Kabul, 13 June 2010.