Country Background

In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. launched a military offensive on Afghanistan in search of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. According to the Costs of War Project, the war in Afghanistan cost the U.S. $2.3 trillion from 2001-2021, and has claimed the lives of over 176,000 people, including 446 humanitarian aid workers, and not including lives lost to indirect impacts of war like disease and lack of access to food and water.

In April 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would withdraw all U.S. forces, other than those needed to protect the embassy, from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban took control of the government of Afghanistan in August 2021, raising serious concerns about civil society access to the country given the U.S. designation of the Taliban as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group.

What Nonprofits Need to Know

Below in the blue is an overview of the humanitarian and peacebuilding needs in Afghanistan. In the red are the primary sanctioned groups presently operating there. Because U.S. law prohibits the provision of “material support” to listed terrorists individuals and groups as well as engaging in trade with sanctioned persons and entities, the presence of these groups and sanctions programs can impact the delivery of aid and peacebuilding programs. The list below is non-exhaustive and changes frequently, so it is important for nonprofits to check all partners and those with whom they engage in transactions against, at a minimum, the U.S. Specially Designated National (SDN) and the United Nations Security Council Consolidated lists. Below the charts is information on OFAC licenses, where applicable, links to our research and advocacy, and other relevant information.

Humanitarian & Peacebuilding Needs

As of January 2022, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 24 million Afghans, nearly 60 percent of the population, require humanitarian assistance.

Food Security and Nutrition: According to OCHA, 23 million people are facing acute food insecurity, meaning their lives are in immediate danger. Over one million children are at risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition.

Displacement: According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring (IDMC), the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) displaced by conflict was 3,547,000 as of December 2020. IDPs displaced by disasters rose to 1,117,000 as of December 2020. According to OCHA, as of September 1, 2021, more than 570,000 people have been displaced by conflict.

Natural Hazards: Afghanistan is considered prone to a number of natural disasters: earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides, and avalanches. In 2020, according to OCHA, 108,721 people were impacted by natural disasters in Afghanistan, with floods accounting for a majority of the impacts.

Psychological Trauma: Afghanistan is the world’s deadliest conflict for children. Constant exposure to high-stress, conflict situations, and repeated loss of friends and family members are taking their toll on the mental health of people living in Afghanistan.

The Taliban: The Taliban is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. Since it took control of the government of Afghanistan in August 2021, civil society groups working in Afghanistan have had to contend with persistent questions about what transactions are or are not allowed. More information here.

Haqqani Network (HQN): Formed in the late 1970s, HQN aims to replace the Afghan Government with an Islamic state under the Afghan Taliban. Operational throughout the country, especially in Kabul and Paktiya and Khost provinces. Designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. More information here.

Al Qaeda (AQ): Formed in the late 1980s, this terrorist group has an operational presence throughout Afghanistan. It is designated as an FTO by the U.S. and listed under the UN ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List. More information here.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS): Active since 2014, this group’s heaviest presence is in Afghanistan, especially in the eastern and southern regions. It is designated as an FTO by the U.S. More information here.

Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K): An offshoot of ISIS formed in 2015, ISIS-K conducts operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is composed primarily of former members of the Taliban. Designated as an FTO by the U.S. and under the UN ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List. More information here.

Primary Terrorist Presence &
Other Sanctioned Groups

Access an overview of Counter-Terrorism Sanctions here and an overview of UN ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions committee here.

Licenses Offered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury enforces sanctions programs. It has a licensing process that allows transactions with sanctioned entities, including listed terrorist groups, that would otherwise be unlawful. Nonprofits that operate in areas affected by sanctions often apply for licenses from OFAC so that they are able to provide services to civilians in conflict zones around the world without running afoul of U.S. sanctions law, engage in peacebuilding activities and more. Find more information here.

  • On Aug. 25, 2021, OFAC issued a specific license for U.S. agencies and their grantees to deliver aid in Afghanistan. This approach was woefully inadequate, as it was not available to groups that do not receive U.S. funding and it required eligible groups to apply individually for the license.
  • On Sep. 24, 2021, OFAC issued General License 14 and General License 15 to allow transactions necessary to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, effectively protecting aid organizations from the direct prohibitions created by sanctions. C&SN published a summary and analysis of these general licenses.
  • On Dec. 10, 2021, OFAC issued General License 16 allowing non-commercial personal remittances to be sent to Afghanistan.
  • On Dec. 22, 2021, OFAC issued General License 17 authorizing activities involving the Taliban or Haqqani Network “that are for the conduct of the official business of
    the United States Government by employees, grantees, or contractors thereof,” General License 18 authorizing various international institutions to conduct activities involving the Taliban or Haqqani Network, and General License 19 authorizing a wider range of civil society activities than were originally protected under GL 14 and GL 15, such as human rights, education, and development activities. C&SN issued a statement in response to these licenses lauding the improvements but calling for further action.
  • On Feb. 25, 2022, OFAC issued General License 20, allowing all transactions with Afghan government institutions, and allowing transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network “for the purpose of effecting the payment of taxes, fees, or import duties, or the purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services, provided that such payments do not relate to luxury items or services.” C&SN published a summary and analysis of this general license, applauding the broad approach, while still calling for more fundamental steps by the U.S. government to address the crisis, including the release of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves to the Central Bank of Afghanistan.
  • For specific transactions not covered by the general licenses, specific licenses are required. You can apply for an OFAC License Online to get authorization from OFAC to engage in a transaction that otherwise would be prohibited.

Policy Reform

The Charity & Security Network advocates for change in national security measures to better support nonprofits working around the world. In fragile contexts, counterterrorism measures often impede humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations from accessing finance for their programs and serving populations in need. Find out more on our key issues below:

  • Following the issuance of General Licenses 14 and 15, C&SN called on the administration to issue broader general licenses for Afghanistan to protect human rights, peacebuilding, atrocity prevention, democracy building, development, and other civil society programs. Treasury has since taken steps to explicitly protect some of these activities.
  • C&SN continues to call on the administration to release Afghanistan’s foreign reserves to the Central Bank of Afghanistan so that it may perform its primary function of stabilizing the economy, which is essential for an effective response to the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
  • A C&SN and Alliance for Peacebuilding report, “Preventing Peace: How ‘Material Support’ Laws Undermine Peacebuilding,” addresses the case of Afghanistan in which an FTO designation was withheld in order to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.
  • Find more information on Material Support here.
  • Find more information on Financial Access here.

Last updated: March 10, 2022