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Zabul province has approximately 384 000 inhabitants, mainly Pashtun and Baluch. It is located in the southern part of Afghanistan and is divided into 11 districts. The province borders Kandahar, Uruzgan, Ghazni, Paktika, and shares an international border with Pakistan. The Kabul-Kandahar highway, which is of strategic importance and a key supply route for the south, passes through remote areas of the province, many of which are not under government control. Many conflict-related incidents take place along some highway sections.
Zabul province is considered a ‘Taliban stronghold’ in the ‘volatile south’. The province sees a weak presence of the Afghan government, which is limited to the fortress in Qalat and to some military outposts in the southern districts. The majority of the population lives across numerous villages in rural areas. Besides local Taliban insurgents, ISKP fighters and Al Qaeda operatives are reportedly active in several districts of the province.
The Taliban control or contest most of Zabul, where government forces are under constant attack. Taliban insurgents have been carrying out activities related to terrorism such as shootings, suicide attacks and planting IEDs that resulted in casualties among civilians, the Afghan security forces, and the insurgents themselves. The Taliban control most of the northern districts and the government was only militarily present in seven districts in the south. Apart from Qalat one other district was mainly under government control.
According to LWJ, five of the districts in Zabul province were contested, five Taliban-controlled and one was under government control.
ACLED collected data on 722 violent events in the period from 1 March 2019 to 30 June 2020 (average of 10.4 incidents per week), of which 479 were coded as ‘battles’, 221 as ‘remote violence’ and 22 as ‘violence against civilians’. Since the first months of 2020, the number of incidents significantly decreased.
Examples of incidents include attacks on military outposts, mainly along Highway One in Shah Joi district, and the complete destruction of the provincial hospital in Qalat by a bomb explosion. Airstrikes by US forces also took place and killed Taliban leaders and commanders.
UNAMA documented 496 civilian casualties (142 deaths and 354 injured) in 2019, representing 129 civilian victims per 100 000 inhabitants. This was an increase of 69 % compared to 2018. The leading causes for the civilian casualties were ground engagements, followed by suicide IEDs and airstrikes.
RS ranked Zabul in the category of provinces where the number of civilian casualties was between 0 and 25 for the first quarter of 2020, and between 26 and 50 for the second quarter.
In the period 1 March 2019 – 30 June 2020, 4 417 persons were displaced within the province of Zabul, most of them leaving for the provincial capital Qalat.
Despite the exceptionally high number of civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants recorded in Zabul in 2019, information regarding 2020 shows a decrease in the level of indiscriminate violence, including a significant decrease in the number of civilian casualties. Therefore, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not currently be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the province of Zabul, however, indiscriminate violence reaches a high level, and, accordingly, a lower level of individual elements is required 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, 2.35