According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Afghanistan has been assessed as Level 4. Do not travel to Afghanistan due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Kabul does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of any persons or firms referenced in this report. The Consular Section, American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit recommends particular individuals or locations, but does not assume responsibility for the quality of any services provided.
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.
Please review OSAC’s Afghanistan-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Lack of key infrastructure, government services, and limited emergency health facilities contribute to making Afghanistan an exceptionally dangerous country.
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 (thefts, home invasions, assaults). Criminals typically work in groups. Criminals 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 activity, politically-motivated criminal behavior, and terrorism. While narcotics trafficking accounts for a large portion of crime, Afghanistan is challenged by a myriad of criminal terrorist threats, many of which target foreigners.
All foreigners and Afghans associated with foreigners are potential targets (NGO employees, clergy, local medical staff, aid/rehabilitation workers, others). Visitors and residents of Afghanistan must be on-guard against assault, kidnapping, and all forms of theft.
Ensure that your housing accommodations are appropriately secure and fortified with barriers and vetted armed guards. Maintain a low profile. Americans should avoid public markets, crowded areas, demonstrations, or bazaars. When possible, travel should be conducted in armored vehicles with the doors locked. Back-up communication systems (radios) and personnel tracking and locator devices are strongly recommended. In addition, organizations should obtain as much voluntary information from their personnel as possible (biographic data, photographs, cell phone data (IMEI and SIM card numbers), notarized letters from the individuals authorizing their next of kin) to utilize in the event of a crisis. Americans are also advised to file a travel plan with someone they trust that includes where they are traveling, routes they intend to use, and times of the travel to include waypoints for check-in.
Other Areas of Concern
Visitors must remain vigilant to the threat of unexploded ordnance (UXO). While many de-mining operations continue, there are un-cleared minefields throughout the country. Colored flags or rocks are used to indicate whether an area has been cleared:
Red: a field has been identified but not cleared.
White: a field has been swept, although this is not an assurance that the field has been entirely cleared. White-flagged fields are generally 90% cleared.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The road conditions outside of Kabul vary. Within Kabul, there are a handful of functioning traffic lights. The roads are filled with potholes, and there are no lane demarcations. Traffic control by Afghan National Police (ANP) officers is generally poor. It is common to see drivers going the wrong way around traffic circles or driving at night without headlights.
Generally, all roads are of an inferior quality, and travelers should exercise great caution while driving. 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, exacerbated by difficult terrain.
Road hazards are compounded by the large number of commercial vehicles and their unsafe operation. Foreigners involved in an accident with locals are expected to pay for damages, no matter who is at fault.
Roadblocks and checkpoints controlled by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and random insurgent checkpoints remain a problem. ANDSF has shot at vehicles that do not stop at their checkpoints. Appropriate identification is generally sufficient to permit passage through government-run checkpoints.
Other Travel Conditions
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are used with great frequency throughout Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, 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. Given the possibility of IEDs, small-arms fire, and other forms of attack, visitors are strongly recommended to travel in armored vehicles, keep their doors locked, and wear personal protective equipment (body armor, helmets).
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kabul as being a CRITICAL-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Decades of disorder and warfare have made Afghanistan fertile territory for international terrorism. During the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan was utilized as a safe haven for several organizations including al-Qa’ida, which benefited from the regime's tolerance of international terrorist organizations. Al-Qa’ida, ISIS-KP, and a number of others remain active.
Politically-motivated terrorism is a major concern. Attacks against foreigners are on the rise, and the RSO expects that trend to continue. The 2016 winter brought a lull in violence, but this season’s insurgent activity shows no sign of abating. The risk of direct fire, IEDs, and IDF (indirect fire) rocket attacks remains very high. Insurgents often combine multiple tactics to attack a fixed location in what is known as a complex attack.
Kabul is a high-profile target for large-scale insurgent attacks, as successful operations tend to generate greater media coverage. Overall, significant activity operational tempo saw little change between 2015 and 2016 in Kabul. In 2016, decreases occurred in vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), IED, and direct fire events from 2015, while increases were seen primarily in suicide vest (SVEST) and MAIED events, which tended to result in greater lethality. The number of IDF events remained consistent between periods. Below are some examples of attacks in 2016:
December 14: Three suicide bombers near the PD-8 police HQ detonated explosives; 2 attackers died and 1 was injured. No civilians or security forces were injured.
November 21: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in a Shia mosque in Kabul, killing 27 worshippers and wounding 35 others.
November 6: Multiple open sources reported the detonation of a likely SVEST against a shuttle van operated by the Afghan NDS near Pul-e Mahmoud Khan Bridge, Police District 2, Kabul.
October 11: Suicide bombers entered the Karte Sakhi Shia Mosque, Police District 3, and opened fire on worshipers. Afghan police reported a suicide attacker was shot but detonated his vest. 14 Afghan civilians were killed, and at least 40 wounded. A second attack occurred at the Mohammed Dir Mosque, approximately 600 meters south of the Karte Sakhi Mosque. Two attackers were killed by Afghan Security Forces.
August 24: The U.S. Embassy Operations Center was notified of an ongoing complex attack at the American University in Afghanistan (AUAF) on Darulaman Road. According to open sources, an explosion breached a gate and a follow-on attack ensued. Some staff and students escaped; however, a large number of staff and students were forced to seek refuge. There were unconfirmed reports that some people were held hostage. NDS and ANP responded and cordoned off Darulaman Road. There was an exchange of gunfire between AUAF campus security, NDS, ANP and an unknown number of attackers. The Afghan Crisis Response Unit responded and secured the facility by the following morning. Afghan government spokesmen stated security forces rescued approximately 500 people. Open sources reported the casualty count for the attack as 7 students killed, 3 ANDSF killed, 2 university guards killed, 2 insurgents killed, and 8 ANDSF and 28 students/faculty members wounded.
August 7: Two foreign university lecturers (a U.S. national and an Australian) from AUAF were kidnapped in Kabul. The incident took place in Darulaman area of Kabul close to the university after a number of unknown gunmen abducted the two men, security officials said. The U.S. Embassy received a phone call from a security contact reporting that the suspects wore National Directorate of Security uniforms and drove a Silver Toyota 4Runner.
August 1: Militants conducted a complex attack against the Northgate Hotel, initiated by a VBIED near the hotel compound. No casualties were sustained by hotel guests, who were mainly foreigners. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
July 23: A suicide bomber attacked a peaceful protest march in the western part of Kabul City Police District 3, approximately 4 kilometers west of Embassy Kabul and killed approximately 60 Afghans.
June 20: A suicide bomber targeted a minibus carrying employees of a foreign company in the Banae area, Police District 9, Kabul, Afghanistan. 14 Nepalese citizens were killed, and nine others (five Nepalese, four Afghans) were wounded. The suicide bomber reportedly had waited near the compound housing and struck as the vehicle moved through the early morning traffic.
May 17: Preliminary reports suggested that a possible SVBIED, described as a white Toyota station wagon, rammed into an Afghan MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicle, part of a three-vehicle convoy in front of the Ministry of Interior, after having circumvented two checkpoints in Kabul. Reporting later confirmed that the vehicle had been laden with 70kg of explosives, which failed to detonate.
April 19: A large explosion was reported in Police District 1, Kabul. Afghan officials indicated the explosion was a VBIED, which detonated near the soccer stadium and Eid Gah Mosque. Individuals on the ground reported follow-on small arms fire. Attackers entered a government facility operated by the Afghan security agency D-10. Multiple Afghan government personnel responded to the scene, and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were reportedly engaged with an unknown number of attackers. Open source reporting further indicated approximately 20 National Directorate of Security (NDS) recruits were taken hostage and moved to the basement of the facility. Initial open source reporting indicated approximately 24 Afghan civilians killed and over 150 Afghan civilians wounded. However, the numbers were not confirmed.
February 1: A suicide bomber detonated at the entrance to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) headquarters. The target appeared to be a group of officers waiting to undergo security screening.
January 4: An explosion occurred on Route Abbey, penetrating an exterior wall of Camp Sullivan.
January 1: A VBIED detonated in front of a French guest house/restaurant in the 9th street of Qalah Fatehullah area of PD-10. Two insurgents attempted to enter the guest house; one was arrested and the other escaped. One insurgent was killed in the VBIED, one was arrested, one local national (LN) guard was killed, one LN child was killed, and 11 LNs were wounded. Taliban claimed responsibility in open source reporting.
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.
Political violence ranges from targeted attacks against Afghan and international security forces to attacks against guesthouses where foreigners reside. The principal method of attack in 2016 was IEDs.
Visitors must remain alert for the possibility of civil unrest. While the government has formalized and implemented a system for legal and orderly protests, spontaneous and potentially dangerous demonstrations do occur. In 2016, there were several significant demonstrations, which were targeted by various insurgent groups, resulting in mass casualties. Foreigners should 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.
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.
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.
Afghanistan is a high-risk earthquake zone, and seismic activity is common. In 2016, over 150 earthquakes occurred. The largest measured 6.6 and occurred in Badakhshan. Northeastern Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies at the center of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Rudimentary construction techniques contribute to the possibility of severe injury or death due to earthquakes.
Road conditions throughout the country are hazardous. Those hazards are compounded by, among other things, a lack of rules or regulations governing the transport of hazardous materials.
Personal Identity Concerns
Those openly proselytizing or promoting non-Muslim faiths put themselves at extreme risk. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.”
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. Additionally, opium growers may guard their territory by employing violent militias.
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 considered 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. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
The local law enforcement authorities are generally ineffective in deterring crime and responding to distress calls and alarms. Response times are significantly longer than Western norms, resulting in many criminals being able to carry out their crimes and a mediocre record in apprehending suspects.
Further, bribery is openly solicited at all levels of local law enforcement. In some cases, officers carry out crimes themselves, resulting in a lack of confidence of the civilian population in local law enforcement.
U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the Afghan government.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Contact the American Citizens Services Unit at the U.S. Embassy immediately to report the arrest of a U.S. citizen. The State Department website describes the type of assistance that the ACS Unit can offer in the case of the arrest or detention of an American citizen abroad.
Crime Victim Assistance
If you are the victim of a crime, the ACS Unit may be able to assist you. Please review the “Help for American Victims of Crime Overseas” website.
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 has within its ranks the Afghan Border Police, Afghan Uniformed Police, Afghan Highway Police, and the Criminal Investigations Department. The ANP is divided into five regional commands (north, south, east, west, 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.
Medical services are generally of poor quality. Facilities often lack basic cleanliness, diagnostic/treatment equipment, and even the most common medications. Private clinics are often operated by individuals without government licenses or medical degrees. There is no public agency that monitors these operations. If eligible, foreigners should seek care on a Coalition Forces military base.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul maintains a list of medical providers in Afghanistan.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Afghanistan.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Kabul is active, meeting regularly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
Great Massoud Road, Wazir Akbar Khan (neighborhood), Kabul, Afghanistan
Hours of Operation: 0800-1600, Sun-Thurs
Embassy Contact Numbers
(When using the country code, omit the first zero. Within Afghanistan, dial zero without the country code.)
Embassy Operator: +93 (0)700-10-8000
After Hours Consular Emergency Duty Line: +93 (0)700-201-908
Overseas Citizen’s Services Hotline: +1-888-407-4747
Americans are strongly urged to avoid travel to Afghanistan. If Americans plan to travel to Afghanistan, or if they already reside there, they are strongly encouraged to 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. U.S. citizens in Afghanistan are instructed to regularly monitor the Embassy’s Security Announcements as well as the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, and the Travel Warning for Afghanistan are found.
Afghanistan Country Information Sheet