All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers
People at a market area in Kabul on Monday following the Taliban’s military takeover of the country. Afghan authorities plan to demolish blast walls across the capital. (AFP)
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Updated 24 August 2021

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

KABUL: Afghan authorities have initiated a colossal plan to demolish blast walls across the capital, installed to shield political leaders, government officials, and foreign missions for a major part of the past 20 years, the city’s mayor told Arab News on Monday.
Also known as a Bremer or T-wall, the 12-foot-high, steel-reinforced and portable structures are a common sight across Kabul.
The municipality’s move follows the capture of Kabul by Taliban fighters, some of whom were behind suicide attacks and car bombings which prompted officials to erect the concrete walls as a protective measure. 
However, since returning to power, the Taliban have pledged to maintain peace and form an “all-inclusive government.”
“We have begun removing the barriers starting with government institutions,” Kabul Mayor Daud Sultanzoy said. “Private individuals are to follow this too and embassies, depending on their circumstances, are requested to do so. We plan to clear all of Kabul. The process will take months since the number of such concrete walls is very high and there is not enough machinery.”
He was also mayor under former President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul hours after the Taliban took over the presidential palace.
Authorities were going to remove the T-walls some time ago but were “stopped by strongmen and factional leaders, including the head of parliament.”
In some areas of Kabul, entire streets and avenues have been blocked from view, turning the city into “a strange fort” and creating restrictions in movement.
“These walls had created a choking environment for the people of Kabul because they blocked streets,” the mayor added.
According to a municipality official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, there are more than 3,700 T-walls installed in just one of Kabul’s 22 districts.
These are in addition to nearly 8,400 T-walls set up in compounds housing US-led NATO forces, who are set to leave Afghanistan by the end of the month.
“Hundreds more have been installed to protect embassies, government authorities and leaders,” the official said.
There was a gradual increase in the number of barriers set up in recent years following a surge in commando-style attacks by Taliban and Daesh militants who used car bombs, causing enormous destruction. One such strike was carried out against former Defense Minister Gen. Besmillah Khan Mohammadi in a posh area of Kabul a few weeks ago, when Taliban fighters used a vehicle laden with explosives. Later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kabul residents hailed the clearing out as the T-walls made the city look like it was in a “constant state of war.”
“This (removal of the concrete walls) is indeed a noble initiative,” taxi driver Fateh Shah told Arab News. “The city looked like it was at constant war. We are happy about it because it will reduce traffic congestion and allow easy movement.”
Others said that while the purpose of the T-walls was to safeguard certain areas they had “created a headache” for ordinary people’s security on the streets. 
“They were of no help for other people; (they) blocked roads and created problems such as access to hospitals,” retired civil servant Qurban Ali told Arab News. “People would find themselves trapped in some of the blasts and their evacuation was almost impossible because of these hindrances.”