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 has 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, 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 October 2021, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 18.4 million Afghans currently require humanitarian assistance.

Displacement: According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (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.

Food Security and Nutrition: According to OCHA, 12.2 million people are experiencing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity. Compounding matters, wheat production in 2021 is projected to fall by 25 percent compared to 2020.

Ongoing Hostilities: The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s Midyear Update reported 5,183 civilian casualties (1,659 deaths and 3,524 injuries) in the first half of 2021, a 47 percent increase compared to the first half of 2020. Threats to aid workers specifically also persist. According to OCHA, in the first quarter of 2021, “9 aid workers were killed, 22 injured, 24 abducted, and 35 detained.”

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 August 25, 2021, Treasury 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 September 24, 2021, Treasury issued two general licenses to allow transactions necessary to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, effectively protecting aid organizations from the direct prohibitions created by sanctions. These licenses apply to everyone and do not require organizations to apply for them. However they do not include protections for other civil society activities, such as peacebuilding, human rights defense, democracy building and more.
  • 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:

Useful Links

Last updated: October 26, 2021