This is an annual report produced
in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul,
Afghanistan. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Afghanistan.
For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific
page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact
information, some of which may be available only to private-sector
representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S.
Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses
Afghanistan at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country
due to armed conflict, terrorism, crime, and civil unrest. For more
information, review OSAC’s report, Understanding the
Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Lack of key infrastructure,
government services, and limited emergency health facilities contribute to
making Afghanistan an exceptionally dangerous country.
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kabul as being a CRITICAL threat
location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Criminal activity is widespread
and includes the operation of several local, regional, and international
terrorist organizations and organized criminal syndicates. Transnational
organized crime (related to the drug trade) remains a serious problem. Criminal
activity extends into lower-level street crimes (e.g. theft, home invasion,
assault). Criminals typically work in groups and are prone to use deadly force
The security situation remains
volatile and unpredictable. Insurgents routinely plot high-profile attacks
against official international and private-sector institutions and personnel,
making it difficult to differentiate between traditional illegal activities,
politically motivated criminal behavior, and terrorism. While narcotics
trafficking accounts for a large portion of crime, Afghanistan faces a myriad
of criminal terrorist threats, many of which target foreigners.
All foreigners and Afghans associated with foreigners are
potential targets (e.g. NGO employees, clergy, local medical staff,
aid/rehabilitation workers). Remain vigilant against assault, kidnapping, and
all forms of theft. Appropriately secure and fortify your housing accommodations
with barriers and vetted armed guards. Maintain a low profile. Avoid public
markets, crowded areas, demonstrations, or bazaars. When possible, conduct
travel in armored vehicles with the doors locked. Strongly consider back-up
communication systems (e.g. radios), personnel tracking, and locator devices.
In addition, organizations should obtain as much voluntary information from
their personnel as possible (e.g. biographic data, photographs, cell phone data
such as IMEI and SIM card numbers). Notarized letters from the individuals
authorizing their next of kin to use that collected data are necessary to
ensure no delay in response in the event of a crisis. File a travel plan with
someone you trust that includes where you are traveling, routes you intend to use,
and times of the travel, to include waypoints for check-in. Whether you plan to
travel to Afghanistan or already reside there, register with the Embassy
through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest travel
updates and information, and to obtain updated information on travel and
Other Areas of
Remain vigilant to the threat of
unexploded ordnance (UXO). UXO includes mines, ammunitions, and explosives
stored or strewn throughout Afghanistan. UXO is present in all areas, including
urban centers. While many de-mining operations continue, there are uncleared
minefields and battlefields throughout the country. Colored flags or rocks
indicate whether an area is clear; however, areas do not always have proper
identification and markings:
Red: field is not clear of UXO.
White: field is swept of UXO. Note this is not an assurance that
the field is entirely clear. White-flagged fields are generally 90% clear.
Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should
Leave Behind, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit,
Hotels: The Inns and
Outs, and Considerations for
Road Safety and Road
Road conditions outside of Kabul
vary greatly in quality. Within Kabul, there are a handful of functioning
traffic lights. The roads are replete with potholes, and there are no lane
demarcations. Afghan National Police (ANP) traffic control is generally poor or
ineffective. It is common to see drivers going the wrong way around traffic
circles or driving at night without headlights.
Exercise great caution while
driving. Road conditions throughout the country are hazardous. Those hazards
are compounded by, among other things, the large number of commercial vehicles
and their unsafe operation, and a lack of rules or regulations governing the
transport of hazardous materials. All roads are of an inferior quality. While
some roads in Kabul and other large cities might accommodate normal sedans, a
four-wheel drive vehicle is essential outside of major cities. Many roads
outside the capital are unimproved and can become impassable during the winter,
especially considering difficult terrain.
Locals involved in an accident
with foreigners expect them to pay for damages, no matter who is at fault. If
Afghans are seriously hurt or killed in traffic accidents, violence could occur
against Western drivers as a result.
During colder months, mountain
roads/passes can become inaccessible due to snow. Avalanches can occur;
travelers need to be aware of the high risk of eroding roads along precipitous
mountain thoroughfares. The Salang Pass between Jabal-Sarag and Mazar-e-Sharif
is one of the most commonly snowed-in passes.
Roadblocks and checkpoints
controlled by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and
random insurgent checkpoints remain a problem. ANDSF will shoot at vehicles
that do not stop at their checkpoints, and has done so in the past. Appropriate
identification is generally sufficient to permit passage through government-run
checkpoints. Officers may demand bribes due to corruption, poor pay, and lack
of discipline within rural police and army forces.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques;
and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Nefarious actors use improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) with great frequency throughout Afghanistan,
especially in Kabul, and mostly in the form of magnetically attached improvised
explosive devices (MAIEDs). MAIEDs remain a serious threat to Afghan security
forces and members of the international community. MAIEDs, improperly attached,
routinely fall off and detonate in traffic. Given the possibility of IEDs,
small-arms fire, and other forms of attack, travel in armored vehicles, keep
doors locked, and wear personal protective equipment (e.g. body armor,
For more information, review
OSAC’s Report, Security
in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kabul as being a CRITICAL threat
location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government
Decades of disorder and warfare
have made Afghanistan fertile territory for international terrorism. During
Taliban rule, Afghanistan was a safe haven for several organizations including
al-Qa’ida, which benefited from the regime's tolerance of international
terrorist organizations. Al-Qa’ida, Haqqani Network, ISIS-Khorasan Province,
and a number of others remain active.
Politically motivated terrorism
continues to be a major concern throughout Afghanistan as highlighted during
the September 2019 election. Even with a historically low voter turnout, more
than 250 civilian casualties occurred on polling day. The Taliban’s deliberate
attempts to intimidate and harass Afghan civilians leading up to the elections contributed
to lower voter turnout.
Although the majority of the
insurgent attacks are aimed at ANDSF personnel, foreigners continue to be high-priority
targets, and attacks against them show no sign of abating. The insurgency has a
strong anti-Western focus, which places all western interests at risk in Kabul
and throughout Afghanistan. With an array of tactics, insurgents exploit
targets of opportunity when available or combine multiple tactics to attack a
fixed location in a complex attack after extended periods of surveillance. The
risk of direct fire, IEDs, and IDF (indirect fire) rocket attacks remains very
high. Insider threat attacks resulting in Afghan government and U.S. military
casualties continued to be a commonly used tactic in 2019.
Kabul is and will remain a
high-profile target for large-scale insurgent attacks, as successful operations
tend to generate greater media coverage. Overall, significant activity
operational tempo did not decrease in 2019 with the use of vehicle borne
improvised explosive devices (VBIED), suicide vests, and MAIEDs representing
the weapons of choice. Below are some examples of more recent high-profile
Unknown parties placed an IED on the roof of a passing UN civilian armored vehicle near the 4th Makroyan apartments in Kabul Police District 9. The attack killed one U.S. national UN employee, and wounded the Afghan driver and a third-country national UN employee passenger.
The Taliban conducted a VBIED attack against a civilian armored vehicle in the Qasaba area of Kabul Police District 15. The attack wounded the Afghan driver and four third-country national employee passengers, and killed at least seven Afghans, including several children.
A Taliban suicide attacker detonated his suicide vest at an entry control point to the Afghan Ministry of Defense Human Resource office near the 2nd Makroyan apartments in Kabul Police District 9. The explosion killed 21 Afghan security forces and civilians, and wounded at least 20 more.
An insurgent VBIED struck a Coalition Forces motorcade near an Afghan security checkpoint on Shash Darak Road in Kabul Police District 9. The attack killed one U.S. soldier and one Coalition solider, and killed 10 Afghans and wounded 14 others.
The Taliban conducted a complex attack on the Green Village in Kabul Police District 9. An initial VBIED explosion breached the Green Village’s perimeter wall and allowed multiple suicide attackers to enter the compound and attack the occupants. Four third-country nationals and at least five Afghans were killed, while three third-country nationals and an estimated over 100 Afghans were wounded. Afghan rioters later set fire to several buildings in the compound.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kabul as being a CRITICAL
threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S.
Political violence ranges from
targeted attacks against Afghan government facilities, local security, and
international security forces, to attacks against hotels and guesthouses where
foreigners reside. The principal method of attack in 2019 was IEDs in various
forms against both Afghan nationals and foreigners.
While the government held formal
elections in September 2019, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) did was
not declared an official winner for nearly five months. Violent attacks occurred
before and after election day, with the likelihood of increased protests,
demonstrations, and election related violence as preliminary and final results
are released. Remain vigilant and keep up to date with the latest election
developments via the media and local contacts.
Despite a formalized system for
legal and orderly protests, spontaneous and potentially dangerous
demonstrations do occur. In 2019, various insurgent groups targeted several
significant demonstrations, resulting in mass casualties. Make every effort to
avoid large groups – particularly political or religious gatherings. Even
demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly
escalate into violence. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Religious and ethnic violence
remains relatively common. Religious violence tends to be sectarian. The
periods around Shia holidays can bring increased tension and threats of
Afghanistan is mountainous and
experiences all four seasons. Summers are very hot, with droughts and lack of
water throughout the country. Winters are generally very cold; travel can be
difficult to treacherous with snow and ice on roads. In the mountains,
avalanches are possible, and rescue response would be limited and
Afghanistan is located in a
high-risk earthquake zone. More than 100 earthquakes occur each year. The
largest earthquake in 2019 measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. Despite the
location of the epicenter near the northeast city of Jurm, tremors were widely
felt in the capital Kabul, approximately 190 miles away. Earthquakes frequently
hit northeastern Afghanistan, especially in the Hindu Kush, which lie at the
confluence of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. Rudimentary construction
techniques contribute to the possibility of severe injury or death due to
Islam provides the foundation for
Afghan customs, laws, and practices. Foreign visitors – men and women – must
remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or
provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses,
halter-tops, and shorts. Although the Constitution of Afghanistan allows for the free
exercise of religion, proselytizing may be deemed contrary to Islam and harmful
to society. Those openly proselytizing or promoting non-Muslim faiths put
themselves at extreme risk. Committing a blasphemous act or producing or
distributing material deemed critical of Islam is punishable by long-term
incarceration or death. Apostasy may carry a maximum penalty of death for
Muslims who denounce Islam or convert to another religion. Allegations of
conversion of Afghan citizens are taken particularly seriously. False accusations
of blasphemy or insulting Islam have led to deadly mob violence. For more
information, review OSAC’s reports Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications
and Freedom to Practice,
and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
Afghanistan is a traditional
country, particularly when it comes to gender roles and behavior. To help
maintain a low profile, women should ensure their shirts cover their full arms,
collarbone, and waistband, and their pants/skirts cover their ankles,
especially when traveling outside Kabul. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover
their hair in public; female travelers should carry scarves for this purpose.
Women visiting Afghanistan should be alert of the risk of sexual assault.
While homosexuality is not
explicitly illegal under Afghan law, authorities may prosecute individuals
under laws forbidding sodomy with jail time or, in more conservative, rural
areas, with death. Sexual relations between unmarried individuals is generally
forbidden. LGBTI individuals face discrimination, violence, and persecution in
Afghan society. Advocating for LGBT rights is illegal. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
travelers and female
Afghan law protects the rights of
persons with disabilities, but the provisions are not implemented in practice.
Persons with disabilities face limited access to transportation, public
buildings, hotels, and communication accommodations. There are few sidewalks
and no curb-cuts, and most buildings lack elevators.
The growth of opium production and
the associated smuggling industry constitute a major threat to the rule of law.
The illegal narcotics trade undermines the integrity of Afghan law enforcement
and funds insurgent/terrorist activity. Informal arrangements between drug
trafficking organizations and local power brokers govern which groups or
individuals profit from poppy cultivation in a given area. This environment
fuels conflict between drug traffickers, often resulting in fighting between
opposing groups to include the employment of violent militias to protect
cultivation territories. In addition to the illicit drug trade of opium and
hashish, 2019 marked a sudden unexpected rise in methamphetamine production,
particularly in western Afghanistan.
Kidnapping remains a constant
threat, particularly against foreigners working for NGOs. Locals who work with
foreigners are also at risk, with insurgents often sending messages threatening
to kidnap family and friends. Virtually every foreigner is wealthy relative to
local standards and is, therefore, a potential kidnapping victim. The
motivation for these attacks is primarily financial, but there is a potential
that criminal kidnappers might sell captives to terrorist groups, with
potentially lethal consequences. Proselytizers and reporters can be high-value
targets for kidnappers with a political agenda. The U.S. Embassy highlighted
the seriousness of this threat in a December
2019 Security Alert. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping:
Local authorities are generally
ineffective in deterring crime and responding to distress calls and alarms.
Response times are significantly longer than Western norms dictate, resulting
in many criminals being able to carry out their crimes and a mediocre record in
Officers openly solicit bribery at
all levels of local law enforcement. In some cases, officers carry out crimes
themselves, resulting in civilian lack of confidence in local law enforcement.
Contact the American Citizens Services (ACS)
unit at the U.S. Embassy immediately to report the arrest of a U.S.
The emergency line in Afghanistan
Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure If
you are the victim of a crime, the ACS unit may be able to assist you. Review Help
for American Victims of Crime Overseas.
National Directorate of Security (NDS): The national intelligence
agency with internal and external responsibilities.
Ministry of Interior (MOI): Supervises interior security/law
enforcement entities. It controls the Afghan National Police.
Afghan National Police (ANP): The primary police organization. It
contains the Afghan Border Police, Afghan Uniformed Police, Afghan Highway Police,
and the Criminal Investigations Department. The ANP has five regional commands
(i.e. north, south, east, west, and central) and the Afghan National Civil
Order Police. Other forces falling under the command and control of the ANP
include local traffic police departments and fire department.
Afghan Border Police: Conducts land and airport immigration and
Afghan Uniformed Police: The primary civil law enforcement agency.
Criminal Investigations Department: Tasked with investigation,
crime scene forensic procedures, documentation of crime, and assisting other
agencies, including the use of the crime lab housed at the Ministry of
Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF): Established in 2009 under
the Presidential Decrees that mandated the dismissal of all private security
contract agencies. The APPF has not prospered as intended; many NGOs and
foreign businesses still maintain the use of armed contractors—some of which
have dubious qualifications—for protection of their personnel and property.
Find contact information for
available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S.
Embassy website. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul
maintains a list
of medical providers in Afghanistan.
Medical services are generally of
poor quality. Facilities often lack basic cleanliness, diagnostic/treatment
equipment, and even the most common medications. Individuals without government
licenses or medical degrees often operate private clinics; no public agency
monitors these operations. If eligible, seek care on a Coalition Forces
The U.S. Department of State
strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling
internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Afghanistan.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, I’m Drinking What in My
Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Kabul meets
monthly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any
Embassy Contact Information
Great Massoud Road, Wazir Akbar
Khan (neighborhood), Kabul
Hours of Operation: 0800-1600,
Embassy Operator: +93
After Hours Consular Emergency
Duty Line: +93 (0)700-201-908
Overseas Citizen Services Hotline:
Before you travel, consider the
Country Information Sheet
OSAC Risk Matrix
OSAC Travelers Toolkit
State Department Traveler’s Checklist
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)