How many provinces does Afghanistan have

Afghanistan - Overview of the security situation in Afghanistan

The topic dossiers offer an overview of a selected topic. This thematic dossier deals with the general security situation in the country. The information comes from selected sources and does not claim to be complete. Created by ACCORD.

Note: Information on the security and socio-economic situation in Herat and Mazar-e Sharif can be found under the following link: herat-and-mazar-e-sharif /

1. Security situation in the country

Information on the security situation in Afghanistan in the period from January 2010 to September 2018 can be found in a report compiled by ACCORD and published in December 2018 on the development of the economic situation, the supply and security situation. (ACCORD, December 7, 2018)


In February 2020, the Afghan Taliban signed a peace agreement with the US with a view to an intended withdrawal of US troops. (AI, April 7, 2021) [i]

According to SIGAR, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed on March 2, 2020 that he had ordered US forces stationed in Afghanistan to begin a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as in the February 29, 2020 between United States and the Taliban signed agreement had been established. In the agreement, the United States undertook to reduce the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 within 135 days of signature and to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the Taliban meet the conditions set out in the agreement. On March 18, the US troops spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that the withdrawal of US troops was ongoing but did not indicate how many have already withdrawn or how many are still in the country. (SIGAR, April 30, 2020, p. 70) [ii]

According to an August 2020 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Taliban announced in late May that they would be observing a three-day ceasefire during the Islamic holidays on Eid al-Fitr - this was only the second time the group had offered a ceasefire would have. The Afghan government quickly confirmed that its forces would also cease hostilities. At the end of these three days, both parties signaled that they would continue to maintain a reduced level of violence and continue the gradual release of the prisoners until the start of intra-Afghan talks. (ICG, August 11, 2020, p. 2) [iii]

UNAMA's observation and documentation of the civilian victims during the ceasefire at Eid al-Fitr show that the parties to the conflict do indeed have the opportunity to reduce the fighting if there is political will, which has a positive effect on the civilian population. During the three days of Eid (May 24-26), UNAMA documented 45 percent fewer civilian casualties than the average over a three-day period in May, namely 49 civilian casualties (27 dead and 22 injured). (UNAMA, July 2020, p. 6) [iv]

After the US-Taliban agreement was signed and the US-Afghanistan joint declaration was published on February 29, attacks on US and coalition forces largely ceased, but violence against Afghan security forces and civilians continued the beginning of the intra-Afghan negotiations on September 12th. (USDOS, March 30, 2021) [v]

According to an AAN article, the war in Afghanistan is now even more than before [before the US agreement with the Taliban] an intra-Afghan war. Although all Afghan conflict parties are supported from abroad, the killing and the killed are now almost all Afghans. The conflict continued unabated in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic and the peace process. In fact, it often seemed that the war was the only activity that was not affected by Covid-19. The US-Taliban agreement and the planned intra-Afghan talks have so far brought little overall benefit to the Afghan civilian population, but probably more to those who live in Taliban-held areas and in cities that have been spared night and US air strikes and where there have been less large-scale urban attacks. (AAN, August 16, 2020) [vi]

For civilians living in the midst of Taliban-controlled areas without the threat of air strikes, large-scale ground operations, or night raids, life has taken on a normality that many have not known in years; in government-controlled areas, the risk is about the same as it was prior to the signing of the Doha Agreement, apart from the lower likelihood of being involved in large-scale terrorist attacks. For people living in contested areas, the defensive stance of the Afghan National Army (ANSF) means that Taliban attacks on ANSF positions have become more frequent, as has indiscriminate responses from the ANSF; the risk of civilians being caught in the crossfire has increased; (AAN, October 28, 2020)

On November 17, the incumbent Defense Minister Christopher Miller announced a further reduction in the number of US troops in Afghanistan, from the 4,000-5,000 in November [2020] to 2,500 by January 15, 2021. (SIGAR, January 30, 2021, p 47)

Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban continued this quarter [October - December 2020] amid persistently high levels of insurgent and extremist violence in Afghanistan. (SIGAR, January 30, 2021, p. 47)

According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), a total of 8,500 civilians were killed or injured in 2020, of which 2,958 were killed and 5,542 injured. These numbers show a 21 percent decrease in the number of civilian casualties. The total number of civilian casualties in 2019 was 10,772; 2,817 killed and 7,955 injured. The data collected by the AIHRC shows that of the total of 8,500 civilian victims, 5,539 are male, 847 are female and 2019 are children. The sex of 95 of these victims could not be identified. The AIHRC's report on civilian casualties shows that an average of eight civilians were killed and 15 injured every 24 hours in 2020. (AIHRC, January 28, 2021) [vii]

Those responsible for civilian victims in Afghanistan in 2020:

The Taliban: According to the AIHRC, civilian casualties from Taliban attacks in 2020 fell by 40 percent compared to 2019. The main reason for this decline could be that the Taliban did not carry out complex attacks and suicide bombings in the major cities of the country. In 2020, a total of 4,567 civilians were killed or injured by Taliban attacks in Afghanistan [1,523 dead and 3,044 injured], while in the same period in 2019 the total number of civilian casualties caused by Taliban attacks was 7,727.

ISIS: The data collected by AIHRC shows that the number of civilian casualties due to ISIS attacks decreased by 21 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The total number of civilians killed or injured by ISIS attacks in Afghanistan in 2020 [160 killed and 243 injured] is 403; while the total number of civilians killed or injured by ISIS in Afghanistan in 2019 was 515.

Governmental forces and their international allies: The number of civilian casualties caused by governmental forces and their international allies decreased by 16 percent. The government and its allies caused 1,490 civilian casualties in 2019, while they caused 1,249 civilian casualties in 2020 [386 dead and 863 injured].

Unknown perpetrators: The number of civilian victims who were indebted to unknown perpetrators more than doubled in 2020. [...] No groups or individuals have assumed responsibility for the 2,107 civilian casualties (857 dead and 1,250 injured) in Afghanistan in 2020. Another 174 civilians were affected by Pakistani rocket fire in Afghanistan, including 31 dead and 143 injured. (AIHRC, January 28, 2021)

From January 1 to December 31, 2020, UNAMA recorded 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 killed and 5,785 injured), a 15 percent decrease compared to the number of civilian casualties in 2019 and the lowest number of civilian casualties since 2013. February 2021, p. 11)

UNAMA's February 2021 annual report on civilian casualties in 2020 includes the following graph:

(UNAMA, February 2021, p. 12)

While UNAMA welcomes the general decline in civilian casualties, the increase in the final quarter of 2020 is particularly worrying as it coincides with the formal start of peace negotiations in Afghanistan on September 12, 2020. It was the first time since systematic documentation began in 2009 that UNAMA recorded an increase in the number of civilian victims in the fourth quarter compared to the previous quarter. In addition, the last three months of 2020 saw civilian casualties increase by 45 percent compared to the same period in 2019, particularly from the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and targeted killings. UNAMA also views the rise in civilian casualties as a matter of concern as a result of tactics that exacerbate the environment of fear and paralyze many sections of society. (UNAMA, February 2021, p. 11)

(UNAMA, February 2021, p. 11)

From January 1 to December 31, 2020, UNAMA attributed 62 percent of all civilian casualties to anti-government elements, with 45 percent attributed to the Taliban, 8 percent to the ISIL-CP and 9 percent to indefinite anti-government elements. Forces close to the government caused 25 percent of civilian casualties in 2020. UNAMA attributed 22 percent of civilian casualties to the Afghan national security forces and 1 percent each to the international armed forces, armed groups affiliated with the government, and indefinite or multiple governmental forces. (UNAMA, February 2021, p. 17)

The UNAMA annual report for 2020 also includes a table of civilian casualties caused by the respective conflicting parties:

(UNAMA, February 2021, p. 17)

The New York Times confirmed 3,378 security forces and 1,468 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2020. [Note: The New York Times (NYT) numbers are lower than UNAMA's for methodological reasons. The NYT's Afghan War Casualty Report cited here includes all of the major security incidents that have been confirmed by New York Times reporters across Afghanistan. It is necessarily incomplete as many local officials would refuse to confirm any information about victims.] (NYT, December 31, 2020) [viii]


The United Nations recorded 7,138 security incidents between November 13 and February 11, an increase of 46.7 percent compared to the same period in 2020 and contrary to the traditionally lower numbers during the winter season. The established trends in the nature of the incidents remained unchanged, with armed clashes accounting for 63.6 percent of all incidents. Anti-government elements were responsible for 85.7 percent of all security incidents, including 92.1 percent of armed clashes. The southern regions, followed by the eastern and northern regions, recorded the highest number of security incidents. These regions together accounted for 68.9 percent of all recorded incidents, with most incidents recorded in Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar and Balkh provinces. [...] Neither party to the conflict was able to achieve significant territorial gains. The Taliban maintained pressure on major transport axes and urban centers, including endangered provincial capitals such as Farah, Kunduz, Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The Afghan Defense and Security Forces continued to conduct operations to secure key highways and restore Taliban gains, particularly in the south following the Taliban's recent offensives on the cities of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. (UNGA, March 12, 2021, p. 5) [ix]

On January 15, the United States announced that its armed forces in Afghanistan had been reduced to 2,500. (UNGA, March 12, 2021, p. 3)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that Defense Ministers have decided to postpone a final decision on the future of NATO's presence in Afghanistan until further consultations before May 1, 2021. (UNGA, March 12, 2021, p. 4)

Between January 1 and March 31, 2021, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 1,783 civilian casualties (573 dead and 1,210 injured), demonstrating the urgent need for action to reduce violence and the ultimate, overarching need to to achieve a lasting peace agreement underlines. The number of civilians killed and injured increased by 29 percent compared to the first quarter of 2020; this also included an increase in the number of victims among both women (plus 37 percent) and children (plus 23 percent). (UNAMA, April 2021, p. 1)

The UNAMA report on civilian casualties for the first quarter of 2021 includes the following table on civilian casualties:

(UNAMA, April 2021, p. 1)

The increase in civilian casualties compared to Q1 2020 was largely due to the same trends that caused the rise in civilian casualties in the final quarter of last year - ground fighting, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and targeted killings all continued to have extreme effects on the civilian population during this year's comparatively warm winter. In addition, there was no agreement between the parties to reduce violence in the first three months of 2021, which could have a significantly positive impact on the civilian population, such as the "Violence Reduction" week in February 2020. (UNAMA , April 2021, p. 1)

In the first three months of 2021, anti-government forces continued to account for the majority (61 percent) of all civilian casualties, while pro-government forces continued to account for around a quarter (27 percent) of total civilian casualties. UNAMA documented an increase in the number of civilian casualties attributed to both the Taliban (39 percent increase) and the Afghan National Army (35 percent increase), with the Taliban accounting for 43.5 percent of all civilian casualties and the Afghan National Army are responsible for 17 percent. UNAMA remains deeply concerned about the ongoing targeted attacks on civilians by anti-government elements, particularly targeted killings. These attacks continued throughout the first quarter of 2021, including attacks on media workers, civil society activists, members of the judiciary and civil government officials, including a particularly worrying trend of targeted killings of women. (UNAMA, April 2021, p. 3)

At least 301 pro-government forces and 89 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in April. (NYT, April 30, 2021) [Note: New York Times (NYT) numbers are lower than UNAMA's for methodological reasons. The quoted NYT Afghan War Casualty Report contains all of the significant security incidents that have been confirmed by New York Times reporters. The numbers are incomplete, according to the NYT, as many local officials fail to confirm the information about the victims.]

2. State and non-state actors

2.1. Afghan government and security forces

According to the U.S. Department of State (USDOS) human rights report for 2020, three government agencies share responsibility for enforcing the law and maintaining order in the country: the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, and the National Directorate for Security . The Afghan National Police, reporting to the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force that has no legal powers to make arrests or independently investigate crimes . In June, President Ghani announced plans to integrate the Afghan local police into other branches of the security force, provided that they had a career free from allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. At the end of the year, the implementation of these plans was under way. The Major Crimes Task Force, also reporting to the Home Office, investigates serious crimes such as government corruption, human trafficking and criminal organizations.The Afghan National Army, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its main role is to combat internal insurgency. The National Security Directorate acts as an intelligence service and is responsible for investigating criminal cases involving national security. Some areas of the country were outside the control of the government and anti-government forces, including the Taliban, established their own justice and security systems. The civil authorities generally retained control of the security forces, although the security forces sometimes acted independently. Members of the security forces committed numerous attacks. (USDOS, March 30, 2021, executive summary)

As of January 28, 2021, the US-led multinational military organization CSTC-A [Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan] reported 307,947 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces [ANDSF] (186,859 MOD [Department of Defense] and 121,088 MOI [Ministry of the Interior]), which are recorded biometrically and are entitled to payment in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System [APPS]. Additionally there are 7,715 civilians (3,031 MOD and 3,579 MOI). (SIGAR, April 30, 2021, p. 66)

On September 30, funding for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), the largest and longest-running Afghan local defense unit, ended. Although the government had known for more than a year that this was going to happen, it wasn't until early summer that it decided what to do with the tens of thousands of ALP personnel who are present in more than 150 districts and almost every province. The troops have had mixed records: some units have defended their communities effectively and resolutely, while others have behaved so badly that they have generated support for the Taliban. However, whatever the balance sheet of the individual units turns out, the dissolution of the force will inevitably have an impact on security. [...] The plan provides that one third of the ALP will be disarmed and retired, one third into the Afghan National Police (ANP) and one third into the Afghan National Army Territorial Force (ANA-TF) ) is transferred. The interior and defense ministries now have three months to sort, relocate and retrain or disarm and retire the roughly 18,000 armed men who are in 31 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan - in the midst of war and one always ongoing pandemic. (AAN, October 6, 2020)

The Afghan National Army Territorial Force (ANA-TF) is the newest ANDSF force element. She is responsible for keeping areas in permissive (less violent) security environments. The ANA-TF is directly under the command of the regular ANA corps and is designed as a lightly armed local security force that is more accountable to the central government than local forces such as the now defunct Afghan Local Police (ALP). (SIGAR, April 30, 2021, p. 70)

The report on Afghanistan by Friederike Stahlmann, published in March 2018, contains further detailed information on the state or state-tolerated actors in Afghanistan. (Stahlmann, March 28, 2018, Section 3.2) [x]

2.2. Insurgent groups

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) uses the term "anti-government elements" in its reports to refer to all individuals and armed groups engaged in armed conflict or armed resistance against the Afghan government and / or the international ones Participate troops. These include the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Hezb-e-Islami, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, Laschkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e Mohammed and groups known as "Daesh" (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, note ACCORD). (UNAMA, August 2015, p. 2, footnote 5)

Terrorist and insurgent groups are exploiting areas of Afghanistan where there is a power vacuum, including the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda ISKP elements and terrorist groups attacking Pakistan, such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), continue to use the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a safe haven. The Government of National Unity (GNU) struggled for control of this remote area, where the population is largely cut off from national institutions. (USDOS, November 1, 2019)


According to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Taliban remain at the core of the resistance movement in Afghanistan. In a July 2015 statement, the Taliban said that the movement's original leader, Mullah Umar, had died in 2013. Akhtar Mohammad Mansour emerged as Umar's successor from a controversial selection process. Mansour, for his part, was killed by a US drone attack on May 21, 2016. A few days later, the Taliban announced that one of Mansour's deputies, Haibatullah Akhunzadeh, had been appointed as the new leader of the Taliban. His two deputies are Mullah Yaqub (son of Mullah Umar) and Sirajuddin Haqqani (operational commander of the Haqqani network). (CRS, May 19, 2017, p. 16) [xi]

The Norwegian country of origin information center Landinfo describes the Taliban as an umbrella organization of various, loosely connected insurgent groups. Among these are more or less autonomous groups with varying degrees of loyalty to the Taliban leadership and to the idea of ​​the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban have a hierarchical organizational structure, headed by an Amir ul-Moominin (Commander of the Faithful). He makes moral, religious and political statements, oversees judges, courts and political committees of the Taliban, appoints shadow governors and is in command of the military organization. (Landinfo, May 13, 2016, p. 4) [xii]

According to the UN Security Council, the first week of the Taliban's fighting season announced on April 12, 2019 saw the most security incidents in two years. The Taliban have a solid supply of weapons, ammunition, money and labor, as well as 60,000 to 65,000 fighters and around 30,000 non-combatants. (UN Security Council, June 13, 2019, p. 3) [xiii]

The UN Security Council reports on restructuring within the Taliban, as well as numerous new appointments in management staff. This is described as the replacement of the older generation in favor of younger Taliban leaders. According to the same source, the shadow and vice-shadow governors and commanders in Bamiyan, Baglan, Kabul, Kapisa, Kunar, Laghman, Parwan, Samangan, Tachar and Urusgan provinces have been replaced. The relieved people were reportedly deposed due to complaints of logistical and financial deficiencies. (UN Security Council, May 30, 2018, p. 5)

Regarding the continued strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Jamestown Foundation writes that since the US military withdrew from Afghanistan, there has been little evidence that the Taliban's clout has waned or that the group is suffering from war fatigue. Through constant violence, the Taliban have shown that they are still a major power in Afghanistan. It is likely that the support structures the group has built over the past two decades will remain intact. Since the fall of the so-called Islamic Emirates in 2001, the militant group has prevented subsequent governments from fully ruling the country. (JF, June 2, 2018) [xiv]

According to the ICG, the Taliban and the United States signed an agreement on February 29, 2020 that obliges the United States to withdraw its armed forces gradually over fourteen months and which in turn obliges the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for terrorists. The agreement also obliges the Taliban to start peace negotiations with the Afghan government and other Afghan rulers. This breakthrough comes after a decade of recurring efforts on the part of the USA and other actors to facilitate or accelerate a peace process. In the course of this peace process, observers repeatedly questioned the Taliban's willingness to negotiate a political solution that would require substantial compromises. The group's willingness to compromise remains an open question, but their interest in exploring whether they could achieve their goals through a negotiated solution seems genuine - at least in part triggered by the lack of a clear military victory. " (ICG, March 30, 2020)

The [US-Taliban Agreement of February 29, 2020] obliged the government in Kabul, which was not involved in the negotiations, to release up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban members before the start of the peace talks. In return, the Taliban should release 1,000 prisoners . The day after the agreement was signed, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his government could not meet the terms because it was not present at the negotiations. (ICG, August 11, 2020, p. 1)

According to the BBC, the US and the Taliban had negotiated that 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released before the peace talks began, and that the Taliban would release 1,000 prisoners in return. While thousands were released, 400 remained in prison. (BBC, August 14, 2020) [xv]

Deutsche Welle reports in an article from August 2020 that the Afghan government on Monday [17. August] said she would not release the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners, blocking the peace talks that are due to take place in a few days. Only last week an agreement was reached in a traditional council on the release of the last 400 prisoners. Some of the released prisoners carried out violent attacks on Afghans and foreigners. (DW, August 17, 2020) [xvi]

ICG reported in an August 2020 publication that the violence and suspicion that followed the US-Taliban agreement would heighten the perception expressed by some in Afghan civil society, the media and the government that the Taliban did may be willing to hold talks but not compromise in order to find a political solution to the conflict. Indeed, the sequence of peace efforts - from bilateral US and Taliban pledges to intra-Afghan talks that could end the war - has enabled the Taliban to participate in the process without making any significant concessions, and US concessions have theirs Reinforced position. (ICG, August 11, 2020)

(FDD’s Long War Journal, March 28, 2020) [xvii]

The districts shown in light gray are either under the control of the Afghan government or the control has not been clarified.


Another important leader of the insurgents is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads the Hezb-e-Islami-Gulbuddin (HIG). The HIG is currently ideologically and politically allied with the Taliban, although there have been occasional confrontations with members of the Taliban in the areas in which the HIG is most active (provinces north and east of Kabul). According to the CRS, the HIG is largely not seen as an important factor in the Afghanistan battlefield and has so far mainly focused on high-profile attacks. (CRS, June 6, 2016, p. 22)

At the end of September 2016, Osman Borhan from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) reported that a peace agreement was concluded between Hekmatyar and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. However, according to Osman, it is unlikely that the agreement will result in a significant decline in the current level of violence, especially since the Hezb-e Islami is currently virtually no longer present on the battlefield. (Osman, September 29, 2016) [xviii]

Haqqani network

The Haqqani network, founded by Jalaludin Haqqani, has often been described by US authorities as a "crucial pioneer" for al-Qaeda, according to the CRS. During its wedding between 2004 and 2010, the network had around 3,000 fighters and supporters, although a far lower number is currently assumed. Even so, the network is still able to conduct operations, including major bombings in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. The group now seems to concentrate more on kidnappings, which may aim to raise funds and to propagate the importance of this group in public (CRS, May 19, 2017, p. 20).

The US Department of State (USDOS) noted in a September 2018 report that the Haqqani Network (HQN) is believed to have several hundred core members. However, it is estimated that the organization is able to draw on a pool of more than 10,000 fighters. The HQN is integrated into the larger Afghan Taliban organization and works with other terrorist organizations active in the region, including al-Qaeda and Lashkar e-Tayyiba. The HQN is active along the Afghan-Pakistani border and in large parts of southeastern Afghanistan, particularly in Loya Paktia, and has repeatedly targeted Kabul with its attacks. The group's leadership has historically maintained a power base in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In addition to the funding it receives from the wider Afghan Taliban, the HQN draws much of its funding from donors in Pakistan and the Gulf and through criminal activities such as kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, and other legal and illegal businesses. (USDOS, September 19, 2018)

al Qaeda

Regarding the presence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the CRS writes that up until 2015 US authorities were of the opinion that the group had only a minimal presence in the country (less than 100 members) and predominantly in the northeast of the country was active as a supporter of other insurgent groups. However, at the end of 2015, US special forces and units of the Afghan armed and security forces dug up and destroyed a large al-Qaeda training camp in Kandahar province. This indicates that al-Qaeda had previously expanded its presence in the country. In April 2016, for example, commanders of the US armed forces corrected their estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan to 100-300 men and spoke of increasingly closer ties between al-Qaida and the Taliban. Afghan authorities, meanwhile, assume that there are between 300 and 500 al-Qaida fighters in the country. (CRS, May 19, 2017, p. 17)

Islamic State - Khorasan Province

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the US Congress stated in a report from May 2017 that an offshoot of the Islamic State group has been active in Afghanistan since mid-2014. The offshoot is called Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), but is also often referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan, ISIL-K. (CRS, May 19, 2017, p. 20)

According to the UN Security Council, the ISKP strongholds in Afghanistan are in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman at the time of the report. The total strength of the group is estimated at 2,500 to 4,000 armed fighters in Afghanistan. The ISKP group is also said to control some training camps in Afghanistan and is said to have set up a network of terrorist cells in various Afghan cities, including Kabul. The leadership of the ISKP, the local branch of the IS, maintains close contacts with the core of the group in Syria and Iraq. Important personnel appointments are made via the central management and the publication of propaganda videos is coordinated. Following the assassination of ISKP leader Abu Sayed Bajauri on July 14, 2018, the ISKP leadership council appointed Mawlawi Ziya ul-Haq (aka Abu Omar Al-Khorasani) the group's fourth "emir" since it was founded. (UN Security Council, February 1, 2019, p. 7)

In August 2018, the Jamestown Foundation (JF) reported that around 300 fighters were killed in violent clashes between the Taliban and the ISKP in the northern provinces of Jowzjan and Faryab, which are considered strongholds of the ISKP. The fighting, in which the ISKP group reportedly suffered heavy losses, marked the Taliban's third major offensive against its rival. Around 200 ISKP fighters surrendered to government forces to evade the Taliban. According to the JF, commanders in leadership positions on both sides were killed. (JF, August 10, 2018)

The Jamestown Foundation describes the ISKP's initial losses as substantial, as the group lost three emirs to US drone strikes in just two years. Nevertheless, the group was able to maintain its rudimentary structure, and the influx of jihadists following the fall of IS operations in Iraq and Syria paved the way for further development. A change in the leadership of the Afghan Taliban has allowed the ISKP to consolidate, and Akhundzada [Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, Taliban leader] appears unwilling to disrupt ties with a deeply rooted ISKP amid this year's spring offensive to open another front. (JF, June 14, 2018)

During 2018, the ISKP group reportedly carried out 38 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, many of which attracted a great deal of attention, some of which took place in Kabul. The group's targets included the Afghan Security Forces, Taliban, NATO military personnel, diplomats, United Nations and NGO staff, journalists and medical institutions, and religious minorities, which ISKP considers soft targets. The group suffered a severe setback in northern Afghanistan in 2018. In July 2018, 1,000 Taliban fighters attacked ISKP positions in Jowzjan Province, killing 200 ISKP fighters. In addition, 254 ISKP fighters surrendered to government troops and 25 foreign terrorists to the Taliban. (UN Security Council, February 1, 2019, p. 7)

The report on Afghanistan by Friederike Stahlmann published in March 2018 contains further information on insurgent groups in Afghanistan. (Stahlmann, March 28, 2018, Section 3.1)

According to an article by AAN, the last, small groups of ISKP fighters are hiding in the high mountains of Nangrahar. The group was evicted from their last remaining bases in Nangrahar in late 2019. However, who drove them is controversial: the government, the Taliban and the local population have all claimed victory for themselves. Speaking to local sources, the article's author, Obaid Ali, imagines that all three parties have a role to play in pushing back the ISKP, as well as the US military and meteorological factors. The organization could regroup when the pressure on them eases, the author said, but it seems it will be a long time before they revive their networks, if that is even possible. (AAN, March 1, 2020)

Al Jazeera wrote in April 2020 that in December 2020 Afghan and US forces said they had inflicted a humiliating defeat to the ISKP in Nangarhar province, which is considered to be its main stronghold. But in the past few weeks the group has reappeared and claimed responsibility for two attacks against the Shiite and Sikh minorities in Kabul, in which more than 50 people were killed. While the ISKP did in fact suffer a defeat in Nangarhar, some of its troops managed to flee to Kunar province or across the border into Pakistan, according to ICG analyst Andrew Watkins. The recent ISKP attacks in Kabul appear to be an attempt that, despite the weakening of their military capacity, they are still able to carry out large-scale attacks in urban centers. (Al Jazeera, April 2, 2020) [xix]

3. Sources

(Accessed to all sources on May 6, 2021 or as indicated)

  • AAN - Afghanistan Analysts Network: Hit from Many Sides 1: Unpicking the recent victory against the ISKP in Nangrahar, March 1, 2020 (available on
  • AAN - Afghanistan Analysts Network: War in Afghanistan in 2020: Just as much violence, but no one wants to talk about it, August 16, 2020 (available on
  • AAN - Afghanistan Analysts Network: Disbanding the ALP: A dangerous final chapter for a force with a checked history, October 6, 2020 (available on
  • AAN - Afghanistan Analysts Network: Taleban Opportunism and ANSF Frustration: How the Afghan conflict has changed since the Doha agreement, October 28, 2020 (available on
  • ACCORD - Austrian Center for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation: Afghanistan: Development of the economic situation, the supply and security situation in Herat, Mazar-e Sharif (Balkh Province) and Kabul 2010-2018, 7 December 2018
  • AI - Amnesty International: Afghanistan 2020, April 7, 2021 (available on
  • AIHRC - Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission: Report Summary: Civilian Casualties in 2020, January 28, 2021
  • Al Jazeera: Weakened ISIL's sectarian agenda exacts heavy toll in Afghanistan, April 2, 2020
  • BBC News: Afghanistan's Ghani says 45,000 security personnel killed since 2014, January 25, 2019
  • CRS - Congressional Research Service: Afghanistan: Post - Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, June 6, 2016
  • CRS - Congressional Research Service: Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, May 19, 2017
  • DW - Deutsche Welle: Afghanistan halts Taliban prisoner release, stalls peace talks, August 17, 2020
  • FDDs Long War Journal - Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal: Mapping Taliban Control in Afghanistan, undated, probably September 2019
  • ICG - International Crisis Group: Are the Taliban Serious about Peace Negotiations ?, March 30, 2020
  • ICG - International Crisis Group: Taking Stock of the Taliban's Perspectives on Peace, August 11, 2020 (available on
  • JF - Jamestown Foundation: Wilayat Khorasan Stumbles in Afghanistan; Terrorism Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 5, March 3, 2016 (available on
  • JF - Jamestown Foundation: Islamic State a Deadly Force in Kabul, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 7, April 6, 2018 (available on
  • JF - Jamestown Foundation: Taliban Demonstrates Resilience With Afghan Spring Offensive; Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 11, June 2, 2018 (available on
  • JF - Jamestown Foundation: Islamic State Emboldened in Afghanistan; Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 12, June 14, 2018, available on
  • JF - Jamestown Foundation: The Taliban Takes on Islamic State: Insurgents Vie for Control of Northern Afghanistan; Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 16 (Author: Rahmani, Waliullah), August 10, 2018 (available on
  • Khaama Press: 1 killed, another wounded in a magnetic bomb explosion in Kabul city, March 16, 2019
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[i] Amnesty International (AI) is an international human rights organization.

[ii] The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is a US agency that oversees reconstruction in Afghanistan.

[iii] The International Crisis Group (ICG), founded in 1995 and based in Brussels, is a transnational, independent, nonprofit that works through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent, mitigate or resolve deadly conflicts.

[iv] The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a political mission of the United Nations, which is based on Resolution 1401 passed by the UN Security Council on March 28, 2002.

[v] The US Department of State (USDOS) is the State Department of the United States of America.

[vi] The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) is an independent, non-profit research organization headquartered in Kabul.

[vii] The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is a national human rights organization in Afghanistan dedicated to the dissemination, protection and control of human rights and the investigation of human rights violations.

[viii] The New York Times (NYT) is a daily newspaper in the United States of America and based in New York City. The New York Times publishes the Afghan War Casualty Report, which includes weekly confirmed casualty figures from governmental forces and civilians. The Afghan War Casualty Report only includes security incidents confirmed by New York Times reporters across Afghanistan. According to the NYT, it is therefore necessarily incomplete, as many local officials would refuse to confirm information about victims. (NYT, January 21, 2021)

[ix] The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is the general assembly of the member states of the United Nations.

[x] Friederike Stahlmann is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Germany) with a focus on Afghanistan.

[xi] The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the research service of the United States Congress.

[xii] The Norwegian Country of Origin Information Center Landinfo is an independent body of the Norwegian Migration Authorities, which provides various actors within the migration authorities with country of origin information.

[xiii] The UN Security Council is a United Nations body responsible for maintaining peace and security.

[xiv] The Jamestown Foundation (JF) is an independent, impartial, and not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that provides information on terrorism, the former Soviet republics, Chechnya, China and North Korea.

[xv] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a UK public broadcaster.

[xvi] Deutsche Welle (DW) is the German international broadcaster, an independent, international media company from Germany.

[xvii] The FDD's Long War Journal (Foundation for Defense of Democracies) is a non-partisan research institute based in Washington, DC that focuses on national security and foreign policy (FDD, About FDD). FDD reports on news about the global war on terror and is classified by Media Bias / Fact Check as "tending to be right-center biased towards alignment with neoconservative positions on the war on terror" (Media Bias / Fact Check, without Date).

[xviii] Borhan Osmann is an analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), an independent non-profit research organization headquartered in Kabul that analyzes political issues in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

[xix] Al Jazeera is a TV news channel based in Qatar.

This topic dossier is based on a time-limited research. It is intended as an introduction to or overview of a topic and does not represent an opinion on the content of an application for asylum or other international protection. All translations are working translations for which no guarantee can be given. Chronologies do not claim to be complete. Each statement is referenced with a link to the corresponding document.