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Baghlan province has a population of approximately 1 015 000. The main ethnic groups in the province are Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazaras. It borders the provinces of Bamyan, Samangan, Kunduz, Takhar, Panjshir, Parwan, and Balkh on a short stretch, and is divided into 15 districts. Baghlan’s capital, Pul-e-Khumri, is known to be an economic hub connected to eight other provinces by the Kabul-North highway - the major transit route between Kabul and the north of the country - which is also of strategic importance for military operations and considered to be decisive for the security situation in the province. The stretch on Highway One between Kabul and Pul-e-Khumri was described by a source as sufficiently safe. On the road further north, however, several incidents and road closures and obstructions as a result of clashes and non-State armed groups’ presence and activity were reported.
Baghlan is among the provinces with a high Taliban presence and Afghan forces have been engaged in deadly battles in parts of it. Baghlan is considered to be one of the most Taliban-controlled or influenced provinces in the north-eastern region. Besides Taliban fighters, local pro-government militias supported by the NDS are reportedly active in the province. Jundullah, which has affiliated itself with ISKP, also had presence in the province. However, reference was only made to the existence of smaller groups of ISKP supporters, with no security incidents specifically attributed to ISKP within the reporting period.
The majority of the districts were categorised by LWJ as contested, with two districts considered under Taliban control, and one district categorised as under government control.
ACLED collected data on 444 violent events in the period from 1 March 2019 to 30 June 2020 (average of 6.4 incidents per week), of which 304 were coded as ‘battles’, 118 as ‘explosions/remote violence’ and 22 as ‘violence against civilians’.
Most violent incidents in Baghlan province have been battles, mainly consisting of armed clashes. The majority of attacks were by the Taliban on Afghan security forces, including PGMs, or attacks on military or police facilities, such as checkpoints, bases and headquarters, and on convoys. These incidents at times resulted in civilian casualties. Taliban presence led to regular attacks, fighting and security operations in some areas of Pul-e-Khumri. Baghlan was one of the provinces in the north-east where security forces’ operations focused, for example, to recapture certain areas in the province. More than the half of the incidents of explosions / remote violence were incidents where the Taliban or unidentified armed groups used roadside bombs or IEDs or magnetic bombs to target security forces. Over one third of this type of incidents were air / drone strikes, mostly carried out by Afghan forces, also causing civilian casualties. Few incidents of shelling were also reported. Incidents categorised as violence against civilians included kidnappings and killings, as well as attacks on trucks. Electoral violence, such as attacks on polling centres, rocket shelling, and blocking of main roads was also reported. Heavy fighting took place when the Taliban launched an offensive on the provincial capital on 1 September 2019, resulting in civilian casualties and displacement. Checkpoints established by the Taliban were obstructing traffic to the north. Telecommunications and road movement were intermittently disrupted.
Further impact on civilians included the extortion of money from fuel trucks passing through Baghlan, as well as damage on power lines and towers by Taliban attacks.
UNAMA documented 349 civilian casualties (123 deaths and 226 injured) in 2019, representing 34 civilian victims per 100 000 inhabitants. This was an increase of 34 % compared to 2018. Leading causes of casualties were ground engagements, followed by and targeted / deliberate killings and non-suicide IEDs.
RS ranked Baghlan in the category of provinces where the number of civilian casualties was between 26 and 50 for the first quarter of 2020, and between 0 and 25 for the second quarter.
In the period 1 March 2019 – 30 June 2020, 46 669 persons were displaced from the province of Baghlan, of which 93 % were displaced within the province itself. The largest displacement occurred in Pu-e-Khumri district, especially after the Taliban’s offensive on the provincial capital. No conflict-induced displacement from other provinces to Baghlan was reported in this period.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the province of Baghlan, however not at a high level and, accordingly, a higher level of individual elements is required in order to show substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the territory, would face a real risk of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.
Main COI reference: Security situation 2020, 2.4