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. This mission saw millions of homes and lives destroyed and took power away from the Taliban but restored it back to the Afghan warlords in the northeast. The rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan began in 2002 and despite NATO’s best efforts to establish a democratic state, Taliban shadow-governments continued to dominate much of the country. The UN strategic review of 2017 reclassified Afghanistan from a post-conflict country to one in active conflict. Fighting between the Afghan government and Taliban forces combined with surges of sectarian violence intensified through 2017, causing high numbers of civilian casualties. Afghanistan is afflicted also by high levels of terrorist infighting as the Taliban, in particular, have rejected ISIS’s encroachment into their territory.

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, and links to our research and advocacy, and other relevant information.  

Humanitarian &
Peacebuilding Needs

According to the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), over 6.3 million Afghans currently require humanitarian assistance.

Displacement: According to IDMC, in the first half of 2019, about 319,000 new displacements were recorded in the country, 213,000 associated with conflict, and 106,000 associated with disasters.

Natural Hazards: Afghanistan is considered prone to a number of natural disasters: earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides, and avalanches. From January to December 2019, almost 300,000 people were affected by natural disasters such as droughts throughout Afghanistan. In March 2019, flash flooding increased the humanitarian needs of 163,000 people and displaced over 42,000. 

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. 

Food Security and Nutrition: 14.28 million people forecast to be in crisis or emergency food insecurity in the first months of 2020. 

Ongoing Hostilities: The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s Midyear Update reported a 31% increase in airstrikes and a 39% increase in casualties (363 deaths and 156 injured) from those airstrikes in the first half of 2019. The country has also seen increased activity and presence of sanctioned groups, including Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K).

al-Qa’ida (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.

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.

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.

Al Qaeda and 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.

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.

“The hopes and aspirations of millions of ordinary Afghans – young and old, women and men, girls and boys – rest on the shoulders of those who are striving to bring the war to an end with a lasting political settlement.”

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan UNAMA, 19 December 2019

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.

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:

Useful Links

last updated: April 15, 2020