Mine Action

Last updated: 13 December 2017

Contaminated by: landmines (extent unknown), cluster munition remnants (extent unknown), improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other unexploded ordnance (UXO).


The Syrian Arab Republic is contaminated by landmines, IEDs, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) including cluster munition remnants that, according to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), “endanger the lives and livelihoods of civilians, impede humanitarian aid, restrict freedom of movement, and hinder socio-economic recovery.”[1]

In November 2016, during a rapid assessment conducted by UNMAS in all 14 governorates, over 20% of total communities within Syria reported the presence of explosive weapons, with 3.6 million people living in contaminated areas. Almost half (47%) of the contaminated communities were located in Aleppo governorate. Of affected communities, 91% reported agricultural land was contaminated; 700 communities (57%) reported the presence of landmines, 400 reported the presence of ERW, and 150 communities reported the presence of air-dropped bombs.[2] The survey captured the communities’ perception of mine/ERW contamination and did not definitively determine the presence or absence of mines/ERW. The results are therefore subject to direct confirmation through non-technical and technical survey by trained mine action personnel in the future.[3] In mid-2017, UNMAS increased its estimate of the number of people living in contaminated areas to 6.5 million.[4]

Mine contamination

Mine contamination in Syria is a legacy of Arab-Israeli wars since 1948 and a consequence of the ongoing armed conflicts. No credible estimate of the extent of contamination across Syria exists, though it is believed to be very extensive.[5]

There has been continued use of mines by pro- and anti-government forces across the country. Turkish authorities have reportedly claimed that between 613,000 and 715,000 mines had been planted along the Turkish-Syrian border, making clear they were not emplaced by Turkish forces.[6] At the end of January 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Syrian government for having laid mines around Madaya and other besieged towns in Syria.[7] Soviet/Russian-made PMN-4 antipersonnel mines have been cleared from Madaya. Syrian government use of these mines was first reported in 2012.[8]

In Kobani and the surrounding villages, which were captured from non-state armed group (NASG) Islamic State forces in 2015, humanitarian demining operators found a significant quantity of improvised antipersonnel mines.[9] To the east, Islamic State are said to have surrounded government-controlled areas in the city of Deir ez-Zor with thousands of landmines. According to one witness from Deir ez-Zor’s besieged al-Jura neighborhood who was cited in the media in March 2016, “After a year of living under siege, some inhabitants tried to flee driven by famine and disease. They were either killed by ISIS sharpshooters or exploding mines. Some torn corpses are still lying in the minefields.”[10] Mine casualties are reported to have occurred in areas of Hassakeh province in the far northeast contested by Islamic State and Kurdish forces.[11]

Remotely delivered T-84 antivehicle mines were reportedly used in the Golan Heights in the southwest of Syria (already heavily contaminated with antipersonnel mines).[12] There have also been reports that T-84s have been remotely deployed in Daraa governorate in the southwest of the country.[13]

In March 2017, a report by the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria noted the indiscriminate presence of antipersonnel mines, IEDs, and booby-traps in civilian areas captured from Islamic State by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Improvised mines “continue to be laid” by Islamic State “with devastating effect.”[14]

Cluster munition contamination

Cluster munition contamination in Syria is the consequence of the ongoing armed conflict since 2012. Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions extensively while Islamic State has reportedly used them in a number of instances. The extent of contamination is not known, as ongoing conflict prevents survey of the contaminated areas.

Up to mid-July 2017, there have been more than 600 cluster munition attacks recorded in 12 of Syria’s 14 governorates. (For details of cluster munition use, see the Syria cluster munition ban profile.) During the UNMAS rapid assessment in late 2016, communities in Hama, Homs, Idlib, and Rural Damascus governorates reported the presence of cluster munition remnants.[15]

Unexploded submunitions caused at least 23 casualties in 2016, though this figure is certainly underreported. (See the casualties profile for further details, including on the reported 837 casualties caused by cluster munition attacks in Syria.)

The Syrian Civil Defense (SCD, also known as the White Helmets) report that unexploded submunitions are the type of ERW that are having the greatest impact in Idlib, Hama, Daraa and Quneitra—the areas where they operate.[16]

Program Management

There is no national mine action program in Syria, no national mine action authority, and no mine action center.

On the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2165 (2014), UNMAS was asked to provide assistance for mine action in Syria. In 2015, at the request of the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, UNMAS established an office in Gaziantep, Turkey, to coordinate the international mine action response in Syria.[17] In 2017, UNMAS also established a coordination desk in Jordan.[18] In addition to coordinating humanitarian mine action operations, UNMAS reports that it has supported risk education and survey of the impact of contamination.[19]

Within the Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria, the proposed 2017 Mine Action response includes risk education and victim assistance, in cooperation with the government of Syria when feasible. Humanitarian actors are encouraged to explore avenues of cooperation with the Syrian government on all components of humanitarian mine action.[20] The extent to which most mine action actors cooperate with the Syrian government is not known. As SCD only conducts operations in opposition held areas, it does not liaise with the Syrian government.[21]

According to a 2016 report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), the response by the international community to the mine/ERW threat has been slow. This is due in part to restrictions on transferring explosive materials necessary for disposal to local demining groups in Syria, and the lack of access to contaminated areas in Syria by international demining groups.[22] CIVIC also reports that the Turkish authorities and some international NGOs are concerned that training on explosive ordnance disposal could give trainees the knowledge and equipment to make IEDs. In addition, civilian clearance teams could be targeted by armed groups or criminals for their explosives and explosive accessories.[23]

According to a media report, in late August 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry was working on establishing an international coalition for demining Syria, with Armenia and Serbia willing to become members.[24]

Information management

The Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) has been established for Syria.[25] The SCD provides spot ERW in IMSMA format, however, as of September 2017, they had not been uploaded to IMSMA.[26] It was not possible for the SCD to generate polygons, mainly due to the inability to conduct quality control.[27]


The SCD established its first explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) operational capacity in April 2016.[28] As of September 2017, the SCD had UXO clearance teams in Daraa (three teams), Quneitra (one team), Hama (one team), and Idlib (one team). The SCD personnel are volunteers.[29] Forty-one SCD personnel were trained in 2016 by Mayday Rescue, and 64 between March and April 2017.[30] The training was conducted in Jordan.[31] The training covered explosive ordnance recognition, task management, protective works, surface battle area clearance (BAC) search, and single item disposal using a thermite flare.[32] Due to the risks associated with using explosives, in 2015 the SCD launched a project to use non-explosive methods to dispose of UXO.[33] As there is no accreditation body in Syria and technical experts cannot deploy on the ground, a degree of quality management is provided via remote methods.[34]

In October 2016, Tetra Tech commenced training with PCM/MAT Kosovo of Syrian nationals through a training center established within Syria. Training included UXO Searcher/IMAS EOD level one and two courses. As of August 2017, two groups of 65 have been trained in the Manbij and Tabqa areas.[35]

A demining organization called Rojava Mine Cleaning Organization (RMCO) was established in 2016 with technical support from the YPG. It is based in Ras al Ain/Sara Kani city, in Hasakah governorate.[36]

Additional local groups conduct clearance in various capacities.[37] UNMAS reported in early 2016 that the extent and impact of contamination has resulted in Syrians without formal training conducting “ad hoc clearance without the technical ability to do so. The capacity of some local teams conducting clearance has been reduced by half as a result of casualties occurring during operations.”[38]

The main international NGO demining operator in Syria in 2016 was Mines Advisory Group (MAG). Handicap International (HI) did not conduct land release in 2016.[39] The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has been working only within government-held areas, conducting training of trainers for risk education.[40]

Russian deminers arrived in Syria in March 2016. In April, the Russian military reported completing demining of the ancient part of the city of Palmyra, recaptured by Syrian and Russian forces in late March from Islamic State militants.[41] In December 2016, an advanced demining unit of the Russian Mine Action Center was deployed to Syria’s Hmeimim airbase to conduct mine clearance operations in Aleppo. Subsequently, a diplomatic source told a news agency that Moscow was calling on the UN and other international organizations to provide the Russian military with assistance in demining Aleppo.[42] The former commander of the Russian engineering troops, Colonel-General Nikolai Serdtsev, described the bomb disposal mission in Aleppo as much more “complicated” than the one carried out in Palmyra city.[43]

Land Release

Syria does not have a comprehensive civilian program for survey or clearance.

There is no reliable data on the amount of land surveyed and cleared, or quantity of items destroyed in Syria in 2016.


In an attempt to better define the type and extent of contamination, impact surveys were conducted by UNMAS and NGO partners in 121 communities between October 2016 and July 2017, but results were not made public.[44]


The SCD started conducting emergency clearance in 2016, using standard operating procedures adapted to the conflict context.[45] The SCD has the capacity to conduct clearance of single item, surface UXO. In Idlib and Hama, following the reduction of hostilities, the SCD were working full time from April 2016 to reduce the ERW threat to the returning population.[46] By mid 2017, the SCD’s clearance operations had extended to the southern governorates of Daraa and Quneitra.[47] Daraa is located in a “de-escalation zone” agreed by the United States, Russia, and Jordan, which has protected it and the surrounding areas from new bombardment, enabling the SCD to focus on EOD.[48]

In 2016, the SCD destroyed a total of 5,568 submunitions and 82 items of other UXO.[49]

ERW clearance by the SCD[50]


No. of unexploded submunitions destroyed

No. of other UXO destroyed

Time period




July–31 August 2017




April 2016–31 August 2017




April 2016–31 August 2017




August 2017


As of August 2017, RMCO, with technical support from YPG, had reportedly destroyed more than 90,000 antipersonnel mines, booby traps, and other ERW during clearance operations in the area under the control of the YPG in northern Syria and in the area retaken by the SDF from Islamic State.[52] RMCO reportedly marks and clears contaminated areas to facilitate the return of displaced populations.[53]

SDF forces began demining areas throughout Minbij, to the west of the Euphrates River, shortly after capturing the town in mid-August 2016.[54]

Russian forces have been demining in areas recovered by the government of Syria. Russia has reported that in March to June 2016 its forces cleared the historical complex of Palmyra, destroying in the process 17,456 items of ERW, “including” 432 IEDs. Subsequently, in December 2016, 157 military deminers, 29 machines, and nine mine detection dogs (MDDs) were involved in demining in Aleppo city. During this process, 34,886 items of ERW were destroyed, “including 19,834 IEDs.”[55]

The ongoing conflict poses numerous challenges to mine action implementation. Operators face difficulties in gaining access, safety and security, and therefore regularly have to suspend operations. Operators are also limited in the use of equipment for the accurate recording of contaminated locations, such as detectors, cameras, and GPS. In some locations, operators also had difficulty in gaining community acceptance to conduct activities.[56] As many Syrians do not have passports, this presents a challenge when organizing training in other countries.[57]

Deminer safety

One SCD EOD operator was killed in an attack during an EOD operation in October 2016.[58]



The Monitor acknowledges the contributions of the Mine Action Review (, which has conducted the mine action research in 2017, including on survey and clearance, and shared all its resulting landmine and cluster munition reports with the Monitor. The Monitor is responsible for the findings presented online and in its print publications.

[1] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated July 2017.

[2] Email from Mika Toivonen, Operations and QA Officer, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017.

[3] UNMAS/NPM, “Rapid Assessment on Mine Action,” November 2016, p. 4.

[4] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated July 2017.

[5] See, for example, E. Sauvage, Handicap International USA, “30+ Years Needed to Clear Syria of Explosive Remnants of War,” 2016.

[6]Thousands of landmines planted along Turkish-Syrian border,” Middle East Monitor, 21 November 2013.

[7] US Campaign to Ban Landmines, “Presidential support for Colombia’s mine clearance,” 6 February 2016; see also John Kerry’s Twitter account.

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Army Planting Banned Landmines,” 13 March 2012.

[9] Handicap International, “Kobani: A city of rubble and unexploded devices,” Factsheet, May 2015, pp. 3, 4, 5.

[10] A. Ramadan, “Land mines, the silent killers in Syria war,” Arab Weekly, 18 March 2016.

[11] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “Landmines kill 8 in Hama and al-Hassakah,” 2 May 2015.

[12] M. Hiznay, Human Rights Watch, “Remotely delivered antivehicle mines spotted in Syria,” 25 April 2014.

[13] Telephone interview with Luke Irving, Specialist Training and EOD Manager, Mayday Rescue, 16 October 2017.

[14] “Human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016–28 February 2017,” Conference room paper of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, UN doc. A/HRC/34/CRP.3, 10 March 2017, §90.

[15] UNMAS/NPM, “Rapid Assessment on Mine Action,” November 2016, pp. 6–7.

[16] Interview with Luke Irving, Specialist Training and EOD Manager, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, EOD Liaison Officer, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Project Officer, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[17] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” updated March 2016.

[18] Email from Mika Toivonen, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017.

[19] Email from Dandan Xu, Associate Programme Management Officer, UNMAS, 12 July 2017.

[20] Email from Mika Toivonen, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017; and “Syrian Arab Republic, Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP),” March 2017, p. 25. The HRP was developed by the humanitarian community working in Syria, under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria (HC) and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis (RHC) and with support from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

[21] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[22] Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), “Waiting for No One: Civilian Survival Strategies in Syria,” 2016, p. 42.

[23] Ibid.

[25] Email from Mika Toivonen, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017.

[26] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[27] Email from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 28 August 2017.

[28] SCD/Mayday Rescue, “Explosive hazard clearance,” 30 August 2017.

[29] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[30] Emails from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 28 August and 3 October 2017.

[31] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[32] Email from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 28 August 2017.

[33] CIVIC, “Waiting for No One: Civilian Survival Strategies in Syria,” 2016, p. 43.

[34] Email from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 28 August 2017.

[35] Email from Ben Remfrey, Managing Director, PCM ERW Risk Management & MAT Kosovo, 15 August 2017.

[36] See the RMCO website for more details.

[37] Email from Natasha Hall, Mayday Rescue, 27 September 2017.

[38] UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” updated March 2016.

[39] Email from Catherine Smith, Mine Action Desk Officer, Handicap International, 14 March 2017.

[40] Email from Lene Rasmussen, DDG Regional Manager MENA, 15 March 2017.

[42] M. Al Mounes (AFP), “Russian Defense Minister Hails Demining Work in Syria’s Palmyra, Aleppo,” Sputnik, 21 January 2017.

[44] Email from Mika Toivonen, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017.

[45] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[46] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[47] SCD/Mayday Rescue, “Explosive hazard clearance,” 30 August 2017.

[49] Email from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 3 October 2017.

[50] SCD/Mayday Rescue, “Explosive hazard clearance,” 30 August 2017.

[51] According to a media report in mid-2017, in one week in July, the SCD in Daraa dealt with about 100 submunitions in Deraa and nearby villages. “Amid ceasefire, rescuers clear unexploded bombs in Syria's Deraa,Reuters, 28 July 2017.

[52] Email from Carla Ruta, Thematic Legal Advisor, Geneva Call, 23 August 2017.

[53] Ibid.

[54] “Human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016–28 February 2017,” §90.

[55] Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol V Article 10 Report (for 2016), Form E.

[56] Emails from Mika Toivonen, UNMAS Syria Response, 29 August 2017; and from Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, 28 August 2017.

[57] Interview with Luke Irving, Mayday Rescue, Majid Khalaf, SCD, and Nour Saleh, Mayday Rescue, in Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[58] Ibid.