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Last update: November 2021

Change in Taliban tactics after Doha

Since the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 (hereafter: Doha agreement), the Taliban in general stopped their offensives against US troops and interests in Afghanistan and intensified their attacks against the ANSF. In response to the Taliban attacks, ANSF resumed their operations against the Taliban [Security June 2021, 1.3]. In the first quarter of 2021, the Taliban’s military strategy was reportedly focused on preparation for large-scale offensives against provincial centres, complex attacks against the ANSF’s installations, and degrading ANSF capabilities. By February 2021 the Taliban had surrounded the provincial capitals of Baghlan, Helmand, Kandahar, Kunduz, and Uruzgan, and conducted attacks against military and intelligence targets. Taliban fighters also focused on controlling highways to limit the ability of Afghan government forces to resupply outposts and checkpoints [Security September 2021, 1.3.3].

Analysts described a ‘winter targeted killing campaign’ aimed at ANSF members, journalists, members of the judiciary, women’s rights activists and other members of civil society noting that the Taliban were ‘pre-emptively targeting independently-minded ‘public intellectuals’ in the hope of eventually capturing the capital’. Sources suggested that the continued assassination of government employees, security officials, and journalists by the Taliban during the first quarter of 2021 was intended to weaken the morale of the Afghan forces and undermine public trust in the government [Security September 2021, 1.4.3].

A report of the UN Secretary General to the Security Council noted the ongoing deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan between 12 February and 15 May 2021, with the southern, eastern, and northern regions recording the highest number of incidents. A total of 6 827 security related incidents were recorded, an increase of 26.3% compared with the same period in 2020 [Security September 2021, 1.4.2].


Summer offensive

When US and Coalition forces officially began to withdraw their troops in May 2021, the Taliban launched their offensive, overrunning numerous ANSF checkpoints, bases, and district centres [Security September 2021, 1.1.1, 1.3.3]. The exact control of different districts at certain times has been hard to determine, not least due to different definitions being applied. For instance, in some districts the Taliban caused Afghan forces to surrender but did not establish a shadow government or leave fighters to maintain control over the area [Security September 2021, 1.4.1].

On 22 June 2021, UNAMA noted that more than 50 districts had fallen to the Taliban since the beginning of May 2021, most of them surrounding provincial capitals which suggested that the Taliban were positioning themselves to advance towards these capitals once foreign forces withdrew [Security September 2021, 1.4.1]. Controlling border crossings and major road routes was also a focus for the Taliban [Security September 2021, 1.3.3].

Taliban gains in the north, including control of significant transportation routes, led the Afghan government to launch what it called ‘National Mobilization’, arming local volunteer militias known as ‘uprising movements’ and delegating power to local leaders to recruit and arm within their community to fight the Taliban. However, the militias could not resist the Taliban forces and soon dissolved or joined the Taliban [Security September 2021, 1.3.4].

In the first week of August the Taliban advanced further. Key cities fell as ANSF surrendered and in less than nine days the Taliban took control over most of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals [Security September 2021, 1.1.1]. Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall on 6 August 2021. According to UNOCHA, the city fell under the control of the Taliban without resistance from ANSF, following mediation by ‘local elders’. By 13 August 2021 the Taliban had taken control over 17 of 34 provincial capitals, including Kandahar and Herat. On 14 August 2021, Mazar-e Sharif fell, and as Jalalabad fell the following day, Kabul was left as the only major city still under government control. On 15 August, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, police and other government forces gave up their posts, and Taliban fighters entered the capital and took control of its checkpoints. Taliban leaders entered the presidential palace, addressed media on the following day, and declared the war to be over [Security September 2021, 1.1.1, 1.4.1].



According to ACLED data, in the five months between 1 March and 30 July 2021 there were 5 781 security incidents recorded in Afghanistan, of which 3 985 were coded as battles, 1 408 as remote violence and 388 as incidents of violence against civilians [Security September 2021, 1.4.2]. The average frequency of incidents at the country level in this period was 268 security incidents per week. This was a significant increase compared to the previous reporting period of thirteen months, 1 January 2020 to 28 February 2021, when the total number of security incidents recorded by ACLED was 8 660, therefore an average frequency of 143 security incidents per week [Security June 2021, 1.3].

According to UNAMA, the use of non-suicide IEDs in targeted attacks in the first half of 2021 increased fourfold compared with the same period in 2020. Anti-government elements targeted civilians, including human rights defenders, media workers, religious elders, civilian government workers, and humanitarian workers, and members of the Hazara ethnicity and Shi’a Muslim religious minority in sectarian attacks [Security September 2021, 1.4.2]. In its War Casualty Report, The New York Times recorded that May 2021 saw the highest death toll in a single month since July 2019 with at least 405 pro-government forces and 260 civilians killed. In June 2021, at least 703 Afghan security forces and 208 civilians were killed, the highest count among security forces since The New York Times began tracking casualties in September 2018. According to the same source, at least 335 Afghan security forces and 189 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the month of July, and in the first five days of August, at least 115 Afghan security forces and 58 civilians were reported to have been killed [Security September 2021, 1.4.2].

UNAMA documented a continuation of attacks on health and education facilities and workers during the first half of 2021, including direct attacks and fighting causing damage to, schools, hospitals, and their personnel [Security September 2021, 1.4.4]. In the first six months of 2021, WHO recorded 30 incidents involving attacks on health care in Afghanistan, affecting eight provinces and 18 districts, of which 22 occurred between March and end June 2021. This marked an increase compared to the same six-month period in 2020, when 19 incidents occurred [Security September 2021, 1.4.3].

UNAMA further reported on ‘concerning developments’ during May and June 2021, including ‘intentional destruction of civilian property and infrastructure, and attacks that appeared to intentionally target objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population’. The majority of these incidents were attributed to the Taliban after they took control of a new area [Security September 2021, 1.4.4].

On 15 July 2021, Tolo News reported that the Taliban either torched or destroyed 260 government buildings and assets in 116 districts and that 13 million Afghans were deprived of social services. In a briefing to the Security Council on 6 August 2021, the Secretary General’s Special Representative on 13 August 2021 stated that ‘roads, bridges, schools, clinics and other critical infrastructure are being destroyed’ [Security September 2021, 1.4.3].

The UN Secretary General reported an increase in attacks claimed by or attributed to ISKP between 12 February and 15 May 2021 - 88 compared with 16 during the same period in 2020, including targeted attacks on civilians in urban areas. [Security September 2021, 1.3.5].


Civilian casualties

UNAMA documented 5 183 civilian casualties (1 659 killed and 3 524 injured) between 1 January and 30 June 2021, an increase of 47 % compared with the first six months of 2020, and comparable with figures in 2014 and 2018 [Security September 2021, 1.4.4]. A record number of girls and women were killed and injured during this period, and overall child casualties also reached record levels. Women comprised 14 % of all civilian casualties, an increase of 82 % compared with the same period in 2020, while child casualties represented 32 % of all civilian casualties [Security September 2021, 1.4.4].

Casualty numbers reported by UNAMA increased in April 2021 as international military forces withdrew, and as districts and administrative centres were captured by the Taliban. UNAMA recorded 2 392 civilian casualties between 1 May and 30 June 2021, the highest on record for those months since records began in 2009. Most casualties were attributed to non-suicide IEDs used by AGEs, and to ground engagements. Control of many districts and administrative centres changed hands during this period, resulting in significant fighting in civilian populated areas and destruction of civilian property and increasing incidence of ‘killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination in communities affected by the fighting’ [Security September 2021, 1.4.4].

Between 1 January and 30 June 2021, UNAMA recorded 439 casualties (124 killed and 315 injured) in ISKP claimed or attributed attacks [Security September 2021, 1.3.5]. The group retained its ability to carry out terrorist attacks in Kabul and other major cities. It claimed the attack on the Kabul international airport in August 2021, which killed more than 170 and injured 200 others [Security September 2021, 1.1.3].



UNAMA described in its mid-year 2021 report that ‘indiscriminate shelling during ground engagements, the use of IEDs including victim activated pressure-plate IEDs, and airstrikes, all of which took place in populated areas, contributed not only to a high number of civilian casualties, but also to an increased fear among the population of the battle coming to their doorstep. Families were displaced from their homes due to the conflict, whether forcibly due to fighting nearby, or following pre-emptive decisions to relocate in anticipation of the situation growing worse’ [Security September 2021, 1.4.5].

As of 22 August 2021, UNOCHA recorded 546 000 people newly displaced in Afghanistan in 2021 due to fighting [Security September 2021, 1.4.5]. According to UNOCHA, 336 130 were displaced by conflict from 1 June 2021 onwards. During this period, people who were displaced originated from all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces with the exception of Paktika and Panjshir [Security September 2021, 1.4.5]. In mid-July 2021, noting that an estimated 270 000 Afghans had been internally displaced since 2021 due to insecurity and violence, UNHCR warned of a ‘looming humanitarian crisis’. On 13 August 2021, UNHCR further reported that around 80 % of the displaced were women and children [Security September 2021, 1.4.5].


Security situation in the first weeks following the Taliban takeover

Incidents and casualties

Since the clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan forces ended, the number of civilian casualties has dropped significantly. On 15 August 2021, Pajhwok News reported that civilian causalities had dropped by 49 % compared to the previous week. On 21 August 2021, the same source reported that civilian casualties had dropped eight times compared to the previous week, from 361 to 47 recorded deaths or injuries. The latter number also included deaths and injuries caused during rallies and stampedes at Kabul’s international airport. [Security September 2021, 1.4.4]

However, this downward facing trend was interrupted by the terrorist attack at Kabul’s international airport on 26 August 2021, claimed by ISKP. The two bomb blasts caused over 170 deaths and more than 200 persons were injured. During the last days before 31 August, the US sources claimed to have repelled several other terrorist attacks against Kabul’s international airport [Security September 2021, 1.1.3, 1.4.1, 1.4.4].

Evacuation efforts

After the Taliban moved into Kabul, tens of thousands Afghans entered or assembled outside the airfield of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul trying to leave the country. Many states evacuated their citizens, persons with residence permits or similar links to their country, as well as persons that had assisted diplomatic missions or military forces, such as embassy staff and interpreters. Some countries also evacuated persons that they considered to be at risk under the new circumstances. It was reported that in the period between 14 and 31 August, more than 114 000 persons had been evacuated. [Security September 2021, 1.1.3].

Resistance to the Taliban

As of late August 2021, the general security situation remained volatile and unstable in Afghanistan. However, there were few reports on armed clashes since the Taliban’s final advance and overtaking of Kabul in mid-August 2021 [Security September 2021, 1.4.1].

A resistance group, the NRF, emerged in Panjshir. NRF consists of militia fighters and former government soldiers loyal to the previous administration and opposed to the Taliban rule. The group initially kept Panjshir from Taliban control and took control of four districts in neighbouring provinces. However, as of 23 August, the Taliban claimed that they had retaken control of three of the districts in Baghlan province.

As of 1 October 2021, the LWJ mapping of Taliban control in Afghanistan, last updated on 15 September 2021, considered 391 districts under Taliban control, Chahar Kint district in Balkh as contested, and 15 districts in Panjshir, Baghlan, Parwan, Kapisa, Wardak, and Takhar as having guerrilla activity.[36]


[36] FDD’s Long War Journal interactive map, accessed 1 October 2021, url.


   The summary above is provided at a country level. For detailed information regarding the security situation in the different provinces see the EASO COI reports Security June 2021 and Security September 2021

The increased level of violence seen over the summer months has been followed by a significant drop in confrontations and in the associated indiscriminate violence after the takeover by the Taliban. However, these developments are very recent and changes in trends may be observed in the future. Limitations with regard to reliable reporting from the country should also be taken into account. Therefore, at the time of writing, it is not considered feasible to assess the situation in Afghanistan in terms of protection needs under Article 15(c) QD.

As the security situation in Afghanistan evolves, in order to make a forward-looking assessment with regard to the level of risk due to indiscriminate violence in a situation of armed conflict, the following elements could be taken into account on the basis of relevant and up-to-date COI:

Actors in the conflict

Elements which may be relevant include the emergence and/or operational capacity of different actors in Afghanistan. In addition, the potential involvement of other states in the conflict may change the security dynamics in the country.

The duration and relative stability of control of a particular actor in the territory would also be important to take into account.

Incidents and civilian casualties

The nature of methods and tactics used by armed groups would be an important element to consider with regard to the risk for civilians. Certain methods and tactics would have a more significant indiscriminate impact on the civilian population.

The trends in the quantitative indicators related to frequency of security incidents as well as civilian casualties should also be taken into account in the holistic assessment of the level of violence.

Geographical scope

The geographical scope of possible confrontations or indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population should also be taken into account. Some conflict-related violence may be limited to a certain region based on the actors involved, for example in relation to local armed groups resisting the Taliban.


Conflict-related displacement may be an important indicator of the level of violence taking place and/or the perception of the risk by the civilian population.