- General remarks
- Actors of persecution and serious harm
- Refugee status
- Subsidiary protection
- Actors of protection
- Internal protection alternative
- Common analysis
- General remarks
- 1. Actors of persecution or serious harm
2. Refugee status
- Preliminary remarks
- Analysis of particular profiles
- 2.1. Persons affiliated with the former Afghan government
- 2.2. Individuals who have worked for foreign military troops or perceived as supporting them
- 2.3. Religious leaders
- 2.4. Persons fearing forced recruitment by armed groups
- 2.5. Educational personnel
- 2.6. Healthcare professionals and humanitarian workers, including individuals working for national and international NGOs
- 2.7. Journalists and media workers
- 2.8. Human rights defenders
- 2.9. Individuals perceived to have transgressed moral and/or societal norms
- 2.10. Individuals considered to have committed blasphemy and/or apostasy
- 2.11. Ethnic and religious minorities
- 2.12. Women
- 2.13. Children
- 2.14. LGBTIQ persons
- 2.15. Persons living with disabilities and persons with severe medical issues
- 2.16. Individuals involved in blood feuds and land disputes
- 2.17. Individuals accused of ordinary crimes
- 2.18. Individuals who were born in Iran or Pakistan and/or who lived there for a long period of time
3. Subsidiary protection
- 3.1. Article 15(a) QD
- 3.2. Article 15(b) QD
3.3. Article 15(c) QD
- Preliminary remarks
- 3.3.1. Armed conflict (international or internal)
- 3.3.2. Qualification of a person as a ‘civilian’
- 3.3.3. Indiscriminate violence
- 3.3.4. Serious and individual threat
- 3.3.5. Qualification of the harm as ‘threat to (a civilian’s) life or person'
- 3.3.6. Nexus/’by reason of’
- 4. Actors of protection
- 5. Internal protection alternative
- Preliminary remarks
- 6.1. Exclusion grounds
- 6.2. Relevant circumstances
- 6.3. Guidance with regard to Afghanistan
- Abbreviations and glossary
- Country of origin information references
- Relevant case law
Last update: April 2022
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 [Security September 2021, 1.3.3].
Analysts commented on the increase in targeted killings of ANSF members, journalists, members of the judiciary, women’s rights activists and other members of civil society in the winter of 2020-2021, noting that the insurgents 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, which represents an increase of 26.3% compared with the same period in 2020 [Security September 2021, 1.4.2].
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].
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 the 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]. During the last days of this offensive, key cities fell as Afghan forces surrendered. 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, from 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].
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].
In its mid-year 2021 report UNAMA described 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].
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]. On 29 August 2021, a US drone strike killed ten civilians of the same family, including seven children, after mistaking a civilian NGO worker carrying canisters of water in his trunk for a terrorist with explosives [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
After the Taliban moved into Kabul, tens of thousands of 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.
The Taliban announced the seizure of Panjshir on 6 September 2021, although Ahmed Massoud claimed the fighting was still ongoing [Country Focus 2022, 3.1].
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.
Incidents and casualties
Conflict-related violence has decreased since the Taliban established control over the country. Pajhwok Afghan News reported that the second week of September could be ‘marked as the second week in the past decade in which no civilian was killed or injured or no conflict related incidents happened’, although other security related incidents, such as beheadings, explosions, and killings, took place. On 23 October 2021, Pajhwok Afghan News reported again on record low levels of casualties, counting six deaths and three wounded during the week, in contrast to 56 killed and 90 injured the week before, caused by an attack on a Shia Mosque in Kandahar. The majority of cases of violence against civilians was recorded in the provinces of Nangarhar and Kabul, followed by Baghlan and Panjsher, according to ACLED data for the period of 16 August 2021 – 15 November 2021 [Country Focus 2022, 3.1].
Despite the general decrease in violence following the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan witnessed a number of attacks claimed by or attributed to ISKP. According to media reports, ISKP used ‘the same hit-and-run tactics’ until recently practiced by the Taliban against the previous Afghan government, including roadside explosions and targeted killings. The security incidents were particularly reported in northern and southern provinces as well as in Kabul City. Attacks were particularly reported to take place in Nangarhar province, defined as a ‘stronghold’ of ISKP. Violence levels in Nangarhar saw an increase with almost daily incidents [Country Focus 2022, 3.1.1].
Examples of incidents with civilian casualties include when unidentified gunmen opened fire against a Taliban vehicle in Jalalabad in late September 2021, killing two Taliban members and at least one civilian. In early October 2021, at least two Taliban members were reportedly killed, and three civilians wounded, after unidentified gunmen ‘opened a fire on a Taliban patrol at a vegetable market in Jalalabad. Another two Taliban members were killed and at least three civilians wounded when unidentified gunmen attacked two Taliban members, who, as reported by eyewitnesses, were collecting taxes from vendors in Hada area of Laghman province [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
Other recent examples of security incidents by ISKP include several roadside bomb attacks targeting the Taliban in September and October 2021, resulting in civilian casualties. For example, at least three people were reported to have been killed and about 20 others wounded in a series of five blasts in Nangarhar province on 18 September 2021. It was reported that Taliban members were among the casualties and that the target of the roadside bombs were Taliban vehicles. Two people were also reported to have been wounded after a magnetic bomb targeted a vehicle in Dasht-e Barchi area of Kabul city in late September 2021, while on 3 October 2021, at least five civilians were killed in an ‘apparent roadside bomb’ explosion outside Eid Gah Mosque in Kabul during a memorial service for the mother of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. At least two civilians, one of whom a child, were killed and four other civilians wounded after twin roadside bombs targeted a Taliban vehicle in Jalalabad in late October 2021 [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
ISKP also claimed responsibility for incidents in November 2021, for example, a number of car bombs explosions in Kabul and an attack on a military health facility in Kabul. Five attackers, three Taliban guards and at least seven other people were killed in the latter assault. Three women and a child, were also killed in the assault [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
On several instances, ISKP targeted the Shia (Hazara) community. For example, on 8 October 2021, at least 72 people were reported to have been killed and 143 wounded after an ISKP suicide bomber carried out an attack on a mosque in Kunduz, used by Shia Muslim (Hazara) minority. ISKP suicide bombers also attacked a mosque used by the Hazaras in Kandahar during Friday prayers, on 15 October 2021. At least 47 people were reported to have been killed and 70 wounded in the attack [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
In the period between 18 September and 10 November 2021, Taliban officials and affiliated media reported on Taliban raids against ISKP, arrests of ISKP members, and prevention of attacks. In a press briefing in Kabul on 10 November 2021, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stated that Taliban security forces destroyed 21 bases of ISKP in different locations including the provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar, and Herat, capturing about 600 ISKP fighters in the past three months. On 29 October 2021, BBC reported that bodies of people who were shot, hanged, or beheaded were found ‘every few days’ in Jalalabad, with many having notes in their pockets claiming their ISKP affiliation. While no group claimed responsibility for these killings, the Taliban were reported to have been ‘widely assumed to be responsible’ [Country Focus 2022, 3.1.1].
The Taliban have also been accused of committing human rights violations against captured resistance fighters and civilians during the weeks of fighting in Panjshir and after that. For example, as reported by BBC on 13 September 2021, at least 20 civilians were killed in Panjshir valley, among whom a shopkeeper, who was reportedly tortured and killed after being accused by the Taliban of ‘selling sim cards to resistance fighters [Country Focus 2022, 3.2].
As of 15 November 2021, UNHCR estimated that 3.4 million people were internally displaced in Afghanistan, reporting that around 667 000 Afghans had been internally displaced due to the conflict since January 2021. Until the beginning of November 2021, displaced persons were registered in 33 Afghan provinces. The highest number of displaced persons originated from the provinces of Panjshir, Daykundi, Kunduz and Herat. Most were displaced to regional capitals and urban centres. The provinces with the largest arrival of displaced persons in the same period, were Kabul, followed by Herat, Daykundi and Kapisa. UNHCR reported that 80 % of the displaced persons were women and children [Country Focus 2022, 3.3.1].
According to UNOCHA, 21 991 Afghans were internally displaced in the period between 4 August and 18 October 2021. In November 2021, UNHCR estimated that around 169 000 internally displaced persons had returned to their places of origin in the period between September and November 2021 [Country Focus 2022, 3.3.1].
The summary above is provided at a country level. For detailed information regarding the security situation in the different provinces see the EUAA COI reports Security June 2021 and Security September 2021.
Indiscriminate violence and civilian casualties have dropped significantly following the takeover by the Taliban. Conflict-induced displacement has also decreased since August 2021. Following the withdrawal of international troops, one of the main actors of the previous conflict (former Afghan government) has ceased to exist, while the conflict between the Taliban and ISKP continues. The violence which takes place in the country is reportedly targeted, however, civilian casualties have also been observed in the course of such incidents. Security incidents were also taking place particularly in certain areas of the country. Therefore, at the time of writing, the level of indiscriminate violence is considered to be significantly lower than before (the Taliban takeover). Nevertheless, the future risk of indiscriminate violence in any part of the country, should always be based on the most recent information concerning the dynamics in the particular area as well as the country as a whole. Limitations with regard to reliable reporting from the country should also be taken into account.
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.