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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Afghanistan 2020 Crime & Safety Report

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.

 

Travel Advisory

 

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.

 

Crime Threats

 

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 against victims.

 

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 security issues.

Other Areas of Concern

 

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 Hotel Security.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

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.

 

Other Travel Conditions

 

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, helmets).

 

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

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 interests.

 

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 attacks:


 

Date

Event

11/24/2019

 

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.

 

11/13/2019

 

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.

 

09/17/2019

 

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.

 

09/05/2019

 

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.

 

09/02/2019

 

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. government interests.

 

Civil Unrest

 

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/Ethnic Violence

 

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 violence.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

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 untimely.   

 

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 earthquakes.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

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 travelers.

 

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 travelers.

 

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.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

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 Threat

 

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: The Basics.

 

Police Response

 

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 apprehending suspects.

 

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. citizen.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

The emergency line in Afghanistan is 119. 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.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

·         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 border security.

·         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 Interior.

·         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.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

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 military base.

 

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Afghanistan.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with 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 questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Great Massoud Road, Wazir Akbar Khan (neighborhood), Kabul

Hours of Operation: 0800-1600, Sunday-Thursday

 

Embassy Operator: +93 (0)700-10-8000

After Hours Consular Emergency Duty Line: +93 (0)700-201-908

Overseas Citizen Services Hotline: +1-888-407-4747

 

Website: http://af.usembassy.gov  

 

Helpful Information

 

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

·         Afghanistan Country Information Sheet

 

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

 

 

 

 

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