This COI Focus aims to provide information on the security situation in Kabul City and is an update of both the COI Focus Afghanistan. Security Situation in Kabul City from 8 April 2020 and the Kabul City chapter taken from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Country of Origin Information Report. Afghanistan: Security Situation, published in June 2021. This report presents information from 1 April 2020 until 15 May 2021. If any developments significantly change the security situation in Kabul, Cedoca will update this COI Focus as soon as possible. For a general introduction to the security situation in Afghanistan, reference is made to the EASO report listed above, published in June 2021.
This report follows the structure of the individual provincial chapters in the EASO Country of Origin Information Reports on Afghanistan. The general description of the city contains information on the geography and population. The chapter on the background of the conflict takes a longer-term look at the security situation in Kabul and includes descriptions of the actors active in the city. In the chapter on recent security trends, the nature and frequency of the violence, illustrative incidents as well as civilian casualties and the further impact on civilians in Kabul are described within a timeframe from 1 April 2020 until 15 May 2021. Lastly, a separate chapter is dedicated to population displacements caused by the conflict and the situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees in Kabul City.
This report was written according to the EASO COI Report Methodology (June 2019) and the EASO COI Referencing Guide (June 2019).
Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, is by far the country’s most populous and influential city, characterized by unprecedented demographic and urban growth. Kabul’s rapid expansion has complicated living conditions and created new economic and security challenges inside the city. Because of its high concentration of government buildings, international organisations, diplomatic and security forces’ compounds, Kabul faces distinct security concerns. Although it is under government control, armed opposition groups have shown they can infiltrate the Afghan capital and Kabul remains a target for AGEs, who continue to carry out attacks in the city.
The Taliban strategy in 2020 was described as a mixture of ‘fight and talk’, with the militants reportedly seeking to secure leverage in the ongoing peace talks with the Afghan government through gains on the battlefield. In what was described as a new approach, the Taliban mostly refrained from high-profile and mass-casualty attacks in major cities, but shifted their tactic to the deliberate targeted killing of civilians (government employees, journalists, human rights activists, moderate religious leaders and women in public roles) in urban areas such as Kabul. A sharp rise in the use by the Taliban of magnetic bombs attached to vehicles was reported, a tactic described as a quick, cheap, simple and relatively unpredictable way for the militants to demonstrate their reach in the capital while avoiding mass civilian casualties.
Although ISKP’s operational capacity was described as degraded in 2020, the militant group retained its ability to carry out attacks in Kabul and other major cities. A spike in high-impact attacks in Kabul was attributed to ISKP in the last quarter of 2020 and the militant group reportedly regained strength in the first quarter of 2021. ISKP has maintained an active cell in the Afghan capital, applying an effective recruitment strategy with outreach activities in religious and academic institutions in the city.
All parties to the Afghan conflict have been reporting their attacks much more sparingly after the signing of the Doha Agreement between the Taliban and the US in February 2020. This has resulted in a significant increase in unclaimed attacks in Kabul City. In a climate of rising impunity, several parties to the conflict have reportedly been blaming each other for violent incidents.
Mid-2020, a new security charter was ordered for Kabul City, with several new security measures implemented. ANDSF forces have also been engaged in a concerted effort to dismantle AGE groups active in and around the Kabul metropolitan area. Security concerns in Kabul, however, are not limited to insurgent attacks alone; they also include a rise in criminality. Incidents of murder, armed robbery, organised petty crime and violent theft, kidnappings and drug-related criminality were increasingly reported in 2020 and 2021 - with police forces struggling to respond effectively and reportedly often involved themselves in crime and corruption.
About 50 % of the security incidents recorded in Kabul district were coded as ‘remote explosives, landmines and IEDs’ by ACLED, representing the most prevalent incident type in Kabul during the reporting period. Despite a 48 % decrease compared to 2019, Kabul remained the province with the highest number of civilian casualties countrywide in 2020. Leading causes of casualties were targeted killings, followed by non-suicide IEDs and suicide attacks. The deliberate targeting of civil society leaders, human rights defenders and journalists as well as the absence of claims of responsibility by perpetrators has generated a climate of fear and increased general insecurity among the civilian population, paralysing several parts of society and fuelling growing discontent with an Afghan government unable to protect its citizens.
Although the number of IDPs finding refuge in Kabul district decreased by 40 % compared to the previous reporting period, Kabul remained the main gravitational centre for migrants in the country - putting further strain on the city’s services and absorption capacity. The total number of IDPs and returnees in Kabul is not known, as movement to and within the city is constant and many return regularly to their area of origin. With limited job opportunities, few or no social protection nets, poor shelter/housing conditions, impeded access to education, healthcare and sanitation and the continuous fear of eviction due to tenure insecurity or land grabbing, IDP’s and returnees in the capital’s numerous informal settlements face precarious living conditions and are often forced into secondary displacement as well as adopting negative coping strategies - with these conditions expected to worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The general security situation in Afghanistan is largely determined by a long-term, ongoing, internal armed conflict which has resulted in many Afghans being uprooted or seeking refuge in another country. In order to assess the need for international protection, the Commissioner General takes into account the fact that there are fundamental differences between the regions of Afghanistan when it comes to the security situation, the nature and intensity of the violence.