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Case studies: the Taliban – Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty, Part 10

This case study, unlike the others, will focus on a specific armed actor, the Taliban – though the use of these arms by other armed groups in Afghanistan, like Islamic State, will also be raised.

While the Taliban are primarily known for their harm from small arms and IEDs, their access to manufactured explosive weapons has resulted in hundreds of casualties across Afghanistan. While the composition of Taliban IEDs varies, some have been found to have utilised manufactured explosive weapons,[i] though this is far less common than the use of homemade precursors. When examining the harm from these groups, this report will therefore also touch upon the harm from IEDs.

This case study will examine the resulting harm from Taliban explosive weapon use, as well as supply chains and the ATT’s impact in relation to this.

Read the full report here

Civilian deaths and injuries from manufactured explosive weapon use

Between 2012 and 2021, AOAV recorded at least 1,894 casualties from non-state actor use of manufactured explosive weapons in Afghanistan, including at least 1,609 civilians. At least 1,329 casualties were caused by the Taliban’s use of these weapon types, including 1,085 civilians. This figure includes at least 68 female casualties recorded in 41 incidents which identified women among the casualties, and 184 child casualties from 56 incidents.[ii]

Islamic State was less likely to use these types of weaponry in Afghanistan, with 185 casualties recorded in this period. Many of the 374 casualties with an unknown non-state perpetrator are likely to have been caused by the Taliban.

A further 1,231 casualties, including 1,101 civilians were caused by the use of manufactured explosive weapons in incidents where it was not specified who the perpetrator was. Such incidents often occur when there is shelling between Taliban and state forces so it is likely that the Taliban were responsible for some of this harm.

In incidents where the perpetrator was identified, the Taliban were responsible for about a third (30%) of civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons in Afghanistan.

A further 480 IED incidents were perpetrated by the Taliban, resulting in 9,045 casualties, including 6,404 civilians, of which at least 309 were women and 680 children. Many IED attacks were recorded with an unknown perpetrator, as can be seen from the above graph. It is likely that many were caused by Taliban IEDs.

Impact on infrastructure and communities

Of the 171 instances of manufactured explosive weapon use by the Taliban recorded by AOAV, six were reported to have caused infrastructural damage.[iii] When IEDs are also considered, there were 44 incidents (an additional 38) where damage was caused by the attack.

There are few organisations with public data on infrastructure damage from explosive weapons in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban have frequently been reported to have targeted essential infrastructure,[iv] with electricity and telecommunications infrastructure often subject to Taliban attack, though the nature of these attacks are not clear.[v]

Instances of damage to cultural and religious buildings have also been noted, though these cases have occurred in situations where individuals have not been harmed. For instance, the Taliban’s use of ‘heavy weapons’ resulted in damage to a mosque in the village of Aqi Bai, Imam Sahib District, Kunduz in October 2021.[vi] Because of the ongoing fighting the mosque had to be left in ruins. While the Taliban are renowned for their damage to cultural heritage, this is rarely linked to manufactured explosive weapon use.

Impact on health and well-being

According to Insecurity Insight, between 2012 and 2021, there were at least 489 incidents of violence or threat of violence against healthcare, including 62 health facilities damaged, 113 health workers killed and 92 health workers injured.[vii] At least 149 were perpetrated by non-state actors, though for 295 there was no information on the perpetrator. Of the incidents, 26 involved explosive weapons and 32 involved IEDs. Listed below are some of the incidents recorded on Insecurity Insights’ Global Health Map. The impact of Taliban use of explosive violence specifically is not clear.

The WHO Surveillance System for Attacks on Healthcare (SSA) also provides significant levels of data. The data they collected between 2017 and 2021,[viii] shows that of the 329 attacks recorded, at least 60 were caused by attacks with ‘heavy weapons’. Of these, 43 impacted healthcare facilities, 12 healthcare transport, 24 healthcare personnel, 13 supplies assets, eight warehouse storage, and nine impacted patients. More than 61 incidents used ‘individual weapons’ which includes the use of IEDs and grenades. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these incidents are not recorded.

The 2019 Secretary-General report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict: Afghanistan’ reported 365 attacks on health-care facilities and medical personnel between 2015 and 2018.[ix] The Taliban was said to be responsible for at least 226 of these attacks, or 62%. But here the nature of the attacks are not clear.

An OCHA update on Afghanistan’s Health Facilities and Functionalities in September 2021 can perhaps shed a bit more light, when examined alongside AOAV data.[x] In this update it was reported that there were 2,312 health facilities in Afghanistan and of these, only 393 were fully functional; 1,819 were partially functional and the remainder (100) were non-functional. While this data does not link this functionality to explosive weapons, the regions seeing the lowest levels of functional healthcare facilities were areas of Afghanistan most impacted by the Taliban’s use of manufactured explosive weapons.

The impact of this violence can be significant. According to the WHO, in 2019, for example, 192 health facilities were closed as a result of violence or threat of violence[xi], with more than 24,000 hours of lost healthcare delivery and 41,000 missed consultations;[xii] which, of course, have lasting ramifications, particularly for areas such as maternal and infant healthcare, injury treatment and vaccination coverage.

An MSF report highlighted the impact of this violence on receiving prompt healthcare. In one instance, after a rocket injured five children, it took five hours to reach a hospital for treatment as fighting continued in the area.[xiii] There were many with similar experiences of delayed treatment – some with fatal consequences, as documented in the report.[xiv]

A 2020 study found that many services, including antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, and immunisation, for example, were significantly lower for provinces experiencing most conflict, compared to provinces seeing minimal conflict.[xv] The MSF report particularly highlighted the dangers of reduced and delayed access to treatment for those in pregnancy and childbirth due to fighting in the area.[xvi]The reverberating impacts to healthcare from explosive weapons are difficult to account for, with further harm from drought and other forms of conflict, having a significant impact on health outcomes. The cost of treatment also, in a country where more than 80% of the population live below the poverty line, remains a significant barrier to treatment.[xvii]

Impact on education

Two key sources of harm to schools are the Secretary-General reports on ‘Children in armed conflict’ and the GCPEA. While this data does not always specify the weapon used or perpetrator, it gives an indication of the impact caused by the Taliban’s use of explosive violence.

In the 2020 report of the Secretary-General on ‘Children and armed conflict’,[xviii] 152 attacks on schools and education personnel were recorded, with the Taliban responsible for 101. However, it is not clear from the report what the nature of the attacks were, and the types of weapons used.

 In 2019 the Taliban was recorded as responsible for 101 attacks on schools and hospitals – though it is not clear how many were hospitals and schools, there were a total of 75 attacks on schools throughout the country that year.[xix] 2018 was the worst year for Taliban violence on schools, with 123 attacks recorded;[xx] a significant rise from 41 in 2017.[xxi]  There were 51 by the Taliban in 2016[xxii] and 82 in 2015.[xxiii]

In 2021, the year of their takeover, 46 attacks by the Taliban were reported on schools and education personnel.[xxiv]

Similarly to the data in the Secretary General’s Report, attacks on schools peaked in 2018 and 2019, though remained high in the years that followed. 130 attacks on schools were recorded in 2020 and 2021; in 2018 there were 192 and 70 in 2019.[xxv] Despite the decrease in 2020 and 2021, more attacks were recorded as utilising explosive weapons. At least 22 of the 62 incidents recorded in 2020, were perpetrated by the Taliban, Islamic State or other non-state armed groups.[xxvi]

It is likely that the 2018 rise was linked to the election with half of the attacks occurring at schools being used as polling stations. In October of 2018 alone, 23 schools were damaged in attacks.[xxvii] The use of schools for polling stations has frequently seen these locations subjected to violence. Similarly, on September 28th 2019, the day of the presidential elections, 23 polling-related attacks on schools were recorded by the GCPEA. 12 attacks damaged school buildings, according to UNAMA.[xxviii] Attacks included mortar and rocket fire on schools. In one attack, when a Taliban mortar hit close to Latifa Shahid Female High School in Fayzabad district, Jawzjan province, the blast broke the school’s windows and damaged the water tank.[xxix]

A hand grenade found in a Cache during Operation Operation Palang-e-Barafcoach in the Kamisan Valley, Afghanistan, April 21st 2011. (CPL Adam Sheldon, 1st Joint Public Affairs Unit. Resolute Support Media.)

Impact

Schools in Afghanistan are frequently forced to close as a result of insecurity and violence. In 2018, when the most attacks on schools occurred, at least one school was forced to close in 31 of the 34 provinces. In total, at least 1,021 schools closed in 2018, affecting more than 500,000 children (203,000 girls and 341,000 boys).

This violence has a particular impact on girls’ education, who are more likely to be kept home from school due to the threat of violence.[xxx] Girls’ schools have also seen targeted violence in an attempt to close them and prevent girls from accessing education.

Impact of the ATT

The problem

Non-state groups have not been short of arms in Afghanistan given that conflict has been occurring in the country for many decades. In any case, arms have continued to make their way to Afghanistan and into the hands of these groups.

While much of this weaponry has been small arms, explosive weaponry has also been amongst their supplies. For example, there were more than 1,200 107mm rockets seized in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011.[xxxi] Other rocket types were also seized in smaller numbers. Most were of Chinese, Iranian or Soviet origin according to data collected by the Small Arms Survey in 2014.[xxxii]

Weaponry has been consistently at risk of being looted from stockpiles or from armed bases, for example, with stockpiles poorly managed and with a lack of inventory checks.[xxxiii]

A report by CAR highlighted that the seizures of US and NATO-provided military equipment by the Taliban in 2021 ‘probably constitutes one of the most significant large-scale diversions of military equipment in recent history’.[xxxiv] The looting of such weaponry is thought to have been a significant factor in the Taliban’s ability to overthrow the government last year.[xxxv]

AOAV collected the data from the New York Times’ Afghan War Casualty Reports throughout 2020.[xxxvi] In these reports, AOAV recorded at least 66 incidents of base/security post capture and/or weapon seizures. Incidents which indicated that the weapons were small arms (at least eight further incidents) were not included – most did not specify the weapon or equipment type. Nevertheless, this indicates the level of risk associated with arms transfers to Afghanistan during this period. In one month alone, September 2020, there were at least 13 of these incidents across Afghanistan – at least two incidents were recorded every month. (All incidents recorded can be seen in Appendix 7.) All but one of the incidents were linked to the Taliban.

Given that such seizures have been an ongoing problem for decades, it would be expected that states would refuse the transfer of arms until improvements had been made as well as assist in these improvements. And, while there have been attempts to prevent theft and improve security at bases and stockpiles, many of these efforts fail to take into account limitations on the ground. For example, a lack of power and internet connectivity in some bases has meant that equipment provided to improve security remained unused.[xxxvii]

Bearing the above in mind, and the harm seen from these explosives in the last decade, it may be unwise, and perhaps, contrary to ATT commitments to have continued supplying weaponry to Afghanistan throughout this period.

Arms transfers to Afghanistan and the ATT

SIPRI data shows that, between 2012 and 2021, some states have continued to supply weaponry to Afghanistan (see Appendix 8). SIPRI recorded arms transfers to Afghanistan from ten countries: Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. Of these, at least five supplied either explosive weapons or equipment that can launch explosives: Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, India and the United States.

The vast majority of the arms transfers were from the United States. Though not specified in the SIPRI data, the United States is also reported to have provided more than 20,000 grenades between 2017 and 2019.[xxxviii] While, between 2003 and 2016, 25,327 grenade launchers, 9,877 rocket-propelled weapons and 2,606 indirect fire weapons had been provided to Afghanistan among almost 600,000 other small arms and light weapons.[xxxix] UNROCA data shows at least 1,407 hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers exported between 2017 and 2020, as well as 742 large calibre artillery systems between 2012 and 2014.[xl]

Though attempts were made to better monitor the weapons and improve security, these often had little impact.[xli]

The UNROCA data (Appendix 9) shows however that Bulgaria, which ratified the ATT in 2014, reported the export of 1,764 hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers to Afghanistan between 2012 and 2020 – 1,659 of these since 2017.[xlii] This would make them the only ATT State Party to have reported specific arms exports to Afghanistan in the years after their ATT ratification or accession.

A US Marine Corps M224 60 mm Lightweight Company Mortar System (LWCMS) crew prepares to fire a high explosive round against Taliban snipers entrenched on a mountain in Afghanistan (AFG), 2 June 2004

CAAT data also shows that the UK approved arms transfers to Afghanistan under unlimited contracts.[xliii] From CAAT’s data we can see for example that there was a licence approved in 2014 for components for mortars, one in 2017 for surface-launched rockets, one in 2018 for air-to-surface missiles and another licence for mortar bombs was approved in February 2021 (though revoked in August of the same year).[xliv] The UK is party to the ATT and they should have been aware of the diversion risks when they approved the licences for these weapons and components.

Transfers of such weapons, particularly light explosive weapons, have served to increase the suffering of Afghan civilians, as specified in the earliest sections of this case study. However, it appears that most ATT state parties did not transfer weapons after joining the ATT, though Bulgaria remains an exception, whilst the United States continued to supply weaponry, despite clear risks of diversion.


Navigate the report:

Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty – Executive Summary

Part 1: Nation-by-nation review analysis

Part 2: Who is causing the most harm?

Part 3: Who is providing arms?

Part 4: Thematic examination

Part 5: Conclusion

Part 6: Recommendations 

Part 7: Case studies – Myanmar’s military

Part 8: Case studies – Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Part 9: Case studies – Non-state armed groups in the Philippines

Part 10: Case studies – the Taliban

Part 11: Case studies – China before and after ATT accession

Part 12: Case studies – the United Kingdom, from key ATT architect to key violator?


[i] Schroeder, M. and Small Arms Survey, 2013.’’Infernal Machines’: Improvised Explosive Devices’. Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers, pp. 219-249, https://www.smallarmssurvey.org/sites/default/files/resources/Small-Arms-Survey-2013-Chapter-10-EN.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[ii] Casualty figures which specify gender or age of those impacted are rare.

[iii] This is unlikely to capture the true extent of the damage from such weapon use as often damage is not reported in the source despite it being likely to have occurred.

[iv] For example, Kumar, R., ‘Taliban targeting Afghanistan’s crucial power, IT infrastructure’, 15 July 2021, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/15/taliban-afghanistan-it-electricity-power (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[v] Kumar, R., ‘Taliban targeting Afghanistan’s crucial power, IT infrastructure’, 15 July 2021, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/15/taliban-afghanistan-it-electricity-power (accessed 07 Jan 2023)   

[vi] Hedayatullah, ‘Taliban attacks on mosques in Takhar demonstrate ignorance of Islam’, 10 May 2019, Salaam Times, https://afghanistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_st/features/2019/05/10/feature-02 (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[vii] Data collected from Insecurity Insight ‘Health Map’, https://map.insecurityinsight.org/health (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[viii] Data collected from WHO, ‘SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM FOR ATTACKS ON HEALTH CARE (SSA)’,  https://extranet.who.int/ssa/Index.aspx.  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[ix] UNSC, ‘Children and armed conflict in Afghanistan: Report of the Secretary-General’, 10 September 2019, S/2109/727, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2019_727.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[x] UNOCHA, ‘Afghanistan: Health Facilities and Functionalities’, 20 September 2021, https://data.humdata.org/dataset/afghanistan-health-facilities (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xi] WHO, ‘Afghanistan: Attacks on Health Care in 2019 as of December 31, 2019’, 2022.

[xii] https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/afghanistan_protection_of_civilians_annual_report_2019_-_22_february.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xiii] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ‘REALITY CHECK: Afghanistan’s Neglected Healthcare Crisis’, March 2020.

[xiv] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ‘REALITY CHECK: Afghanistan’s Neglected Healthcare Crisis’, March 2020.

[xv] Mirzazada, S., Padhani, Z.A., Jabeen, S. et al. Impact of conflict on maternal and child health service delivery: a country case study of Afghanistan. Confl Health 14, 38 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-020-00285-x (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xvi] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ‘REALITY CHECK: Afghanistan’s Neglected Healthcare Crisis’, March 2020.

[xvii] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ‘REALITY CHECK: Afghanistan’s Neglected Healthcare Crisis’, March 2020.

[xviii] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’, 06 May 2021, A/75/873-S/2021/427, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/S_2021_437_E.pdf  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xix] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’, 09 June 2020, A/74/845-S/2020/525, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/S_2020_525_E.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xx] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’, 20 June 2019, A/73/907-S/2019/509, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2019_509.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxi] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’, 16 may 2018, A/72/865-S/2018/465, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/a_72_865_s_2018_465.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxii] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’ 24 August 2017, A/72/361-S/2017/821, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/a_72_361.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxiii] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’ 20 April 2016, A/70/836-S/2016/360, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2016_360.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxiv] General Assembly Security Council, ‘Children and armed conflict: Report of the Secretary-General’, 23 June 2022, A/76/871-S/2022/493, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/S_2022_493.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxv] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2022, ‘EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK 2022’ https://protectingeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/eua_2022.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xxvi] UNAMA, Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020, p. 38.

[xxvii] UNAMA, Special Report: 2018 Elections Violence, (OCHA, 2018), p. 6.

[xxviii] UNAMA, “Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Special Report: 2019: Election-Related Violence,” pp. 5-6.

[xxix] UNAMA, “Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Special Report: 2019: Election-Related Violence,” p. 6.

[xxx] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2020, ‘EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK 2020’, https://protectingeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/eua_2020_full.pdf  (accessed 07 Jan 2023) 

[xxxi] Schroeder, M., 2014, ‘Rogue Rocketeers: Artillery Rockets and Armed Groups’, Small Arms Survey, https://www.smallarmssurvey.org/sites/default/files/resources/SAS-WP19-Rogue-Rocketeers.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxxii] Schroeder, M., 2014, ‘Rogue Rocketeers: Artillery Rockets and Armed Groups’, Small Arms Survey, https://www.smallarmssurvey.org/sites/default/files/resources/SAS-WP19-Rogue-Rocketeers.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)   

[xxxiii] Firth, A. ‘The Consequences of Poor Storage of Ammunition Stockpiles and IED usage ‘, 20 January 2017, AOAV, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/consequences-poor-storage-ammunition-stockpiles-and-ied-usage (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxxiv] CAR, ‘FRONTLINE PERSPECTIVE: ILLICIT WEAPONS IN AFGHANISTAN – ISSUE 01 – Taliban seizures of US equipment are only a fraction of the story’, September 2021.

[xxxv] https://reliefweb.int/report/world/how-weapons-and-ammunition-management-can-enhance-women-peace-and-security (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxxvi] Again, this data only relates to incidents which have caused casualties. More looting is likely to have occurred in situations that didn’t cause casualties.

[xxxvii] Keller, J., ‘The US still can’t effectively track weapons and vehicles given to Afghan security forces’, 14 July 2020, Task and Purpose, https://taskandpurpose.com/news/us-weapons-vehicles-afghanistan-audit/ (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxxviii] Cohen, Z. and O. Liebermann, ‘Rifles, Humvees and millions of rounds of ammo: Taliban celebrate their new American arsenal’, CNN, 21 August 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/21/politics/us-weapons-arsenal-taliban-afghanistan/index.html (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xxxix] GAO, ‘Afghanistan Security: U.S.-Funded Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and

Security Forces’, 10 August 2017, https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687205.pdf (accessed 07 Jan 2023)  

[xl] 105 M69A 82mm mortar in 2012, 80 D-30 122mm howitzer, towed, in 2013, 521 2B14-1 82mm mortar in 2013 and 36 M242 81mm mortars in 2014. All data available from the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, at: https://www.unroca.org/ (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xli] Keller, J., ‘The US still can’t effectively track weapons and vehicles given to Afghan security forces’, 14 July 2020, Task and Purpose, https://taskandpurpose.com/news/us-weapons-vehicles-afghanistan-audit/ (accessed 07 Jan 2023)    

[xlii] Data collected from the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, available at: https://www.unroca.org/ (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xliii] Unlimited contracts, or ‘secret licences’, approve the transfer of an unknown/unlimited number and value of weapons or equipment, specified in the licence. The licence also does not expire but it can be revoked.[xliv] Data collected from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, ‘UK Export Licence Data’. All data: https://caat.org.uk/data/exports-uk/. Specific data link: https://caat.org.uk/data/exports-uk/licence-list?region=Afghanistan&date_from=2012&date_to=2021 (accessed 07 Jan 2023)