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December 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban banned women from universities and NGOs, prompting backlash and dramatic disruption of aid flows as civilians struggle to survive amid economic hardship and severe winter.

Taliban banned women from working for NGOs and attending universities. In dramatic decision, Taliban 24 Dec ordered “all national and international organisations to stop females working” immediately, next day exempted health workers. UN and some major NGOs paused some humanitarian assistance to signal disapproval, partially scaling back aid operations, which could have calamitous impact on one of the world's largest humanitarian response. Earlier, UN Under Sec-Gen for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths 20 Dec reported that amid sub-zero winter temperatures, 97% of Afghans live in poverty, two-thirds need humanitarian assistance to survive and half population require access to clean water; Griffiths also warned “third consecutive drought is looming”. Further deepening restrictions imposed on women since banning girls from public secondary schools in March 2022, Taliban 20 Dec forbade university education for women countrywide; ban removed any illusions that educational restrictions on girls and women could be temporary.

Insecurity persisted amid attacks by Islamic State. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) 2 Dec conducted two attacks in capital Kabul seemingly using foreign fighters from Central Asia, one targeting Pakistani ambassador and another attacking former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in his mosque; assaults indicated increasing capacity and will by IS-KP to attack high-profile targets. IS-KP foreign fighters 12 Dec targeted Chinese-owned hotel inside Kabul, wounding at least five individuals. Meanwhile, armed opposition group Afghanistan Freedom Front showed increasing operational capacity in Dec inside Kandahar province (south). UN sec-gen 16 Dec reported that between mid-Aug and mid-Nov, country had witnessed 23% rise in security-related incidents compared to same period last year.

Taliban and Pakistani border forces clashed. Taliban border forces 11 Dec launched cross-border artillery and mortars into Pakistan, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 17 in Chaman, one of main border crossings. Further clashes 15 Dec erupted, with Taliban forces opening fire on Pakistani military personnel repairing section of border fence in Chaman, killing civilian and injuring 15 others.

November 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban sought to suppress National Resistance Front and Islamic State’s local branch threats in north east, while Taliban signalled harsher restrictions, particularly aimed at women.

Anti-Taliban resistance forces continued insurgency in north east. Despite falling levels of violence with onset of cold weather, insecurity continued in Badakhshan province (north east) after Taliban in Oct launched large-scale operations in districts bordering Tajikistan; operations for time being appeared to stunt National Resistance Front (NRF) activities in province but strained relations with Tajikistan, neighbouring country that harbours NRF fighters. Similarly, in Takhar province (north east), numerous reports surfaced during month of Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) and NRF attacks; Taliban forces launched raids against hideouts, primarily targeting ISKP. Meanwhile, deadly clashes erupted between Taliban and Pakistani border forces around Chaman border crossing 13 Nov and in Paktia province (east) 15 Nov (see Pakistan). Bomb 30 Nov targeting religious school in Samangan province (north) killed at least 17 students, majority of them believed to be children.

Taliban regime continued repressive measures, including on women. Taliban 5 Nov stated efforts were under way to end caretaker govt model; how the Taliban will shift to permanent govt remains unclear as group signalled intent to introduce additional governance restrictions. UN children’s agency 7 Nov claimed that women were increasingly being denied access to health facilities unless accompanied by male relatives; ministry for promoting virtue and preventing vice next day announced closure of women’s public baths and declared that women will no longer be able to visit public parks. UN experts 25 Nov said treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution”. Earlier, Taliban 3 Nov arrested human rights activist Zarifa Yaqhoubi and her colleagues in capital Kabul who announced formation of women-led political party. Taliban emir 13 Nov met with judges and urged application of stricter punishments against kidnappers, seditionists and thieves.

Humanitarian crisis persisted as winter approached. With harsh winter fast approaching, little progress was made in addressing economic and humanitarian crises; notably, China 9 Nov announced it will grant zero-tariffs on 98% of Afghan products from Dec onward.

October 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

National Resistance Front (NRF) expanded activities in north, while U.S. announced financial initiative to ease country’s economic isolation as humanitarian crisis persists.

NRF stepped up activity in north east, as Taliban targeted Islamic State’s local branch. Badakhshan province (north east) witnessed rising insecurity, due to inroads made by National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and recent defections of Taliban-aligned groups in area. Notably, NRF 3 Oct published video showing capture of Taliban’s governor for Badakhshan’s Shekay district, marking first significant activity by NRF in Badakhshan and suggesting expansion of group’s presence in north; group also announced capture of Shekay district, although this claim was rejected by local residents. Taliban 6 Oct appointed former head of air force, Mawlawi Amanuddin, as province’s governor; Amanuddin appeared to have launched major offensive in province in order to subdue resistance forces. Meanwhile, Taliban forces continued raiding Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) hideouts countrywide, including in capital Kabul, and 4 Oct announced capture of group’s foreign liaison head; ISKP maintains high level of activity, primarily in east.

Taliban sent mixed signals on girls’ tertiary education. In early month, girls in many provinces took part in kankor, or university entrance exams, suggesting that despite closure of girls’ secondary schooling, tertiary education remains open to female students. Reports 14 Oct emerged that de facto authorities had expelled some female Kabul University students, possibly due to involvement with protests. Following replacement of Education Minister in late Sept, Taliban Emir 17 Oct replaced Minister of Higher Education; ramifications of appointment on girls’ tertiary education remain unclear.

U.S. announced new financial initiative amid engagement with Taliban. With Afghanistan’s harsh winter fast approaching, international focus centred on country’s humanitarian and economic crises. Senior U.S. delegation 9 Oct met with Taliban delegation in Qatar’s capital Doha to discuss security and economic issues. U.S. Special Envoy Tom West 22 Oct stated U.S. and other countries would facilitate priority transactions to overcome banking challenges in initiative aimed at permitting authorities to spend tax revenues on vital supplies.

September 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued discriminatory policies toward women and girls and rejected U.S. initiative on unfreezing state assets; Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) stepped up deadly attacks.

Taliban leadership continued repression of women’s rights and freedoms. Taliban Supreme Court 4 Sept asserted there was “no need” for female judges. Deputy justice minister next day stated country had “no need” for constitution or political parties. Local authorities 5 Sept reopened girls’ secondary schooling in Paktia province after demands by local tribal elders; de facto authorities, however, closed schools once again, sparking protests. UN special rapporteur 12 Sept highlighted significant deterioration of women’s rights since Taliban takeover. Emir 21 Sept appointed close ally Mawlawi Habibullah Agha as education minister.

Despite poor economic trajectory, Taliban did not accept U.S. proposal on unfreezing state assets. U.S. 15 Sept announced plan to establish fund in Switzerland for disbursement of $3.5bn from frozen Afghan financial reserves. Taliban same day called mechanism “unacceptable”, primarily as it bypassed central bank and excluded Taliban input. Minister of commerce 6 Sept expressed hopes of joining China’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor megaproject. In apparent prisoner exchange, U.S. 19 Sept handed drug dealer and long-time Taliban supporter, Haji Bashir Noorzai, to Taliban, which released U.S. citizen taken hostage in 2019.

ISKP intensified deadly attacks, Taliban launched new offensive in north. Taliban 1 Sept claimed killing of ISKP’s shadow governor for Farah province (west). ISKP 2 Sept killed firebrand cleric and Taliban supporter Mawlawi Mujib ur Rahman Ansari in suicide blast in Herat province (west). ISKP 5 Sept attacked Russia’s embassy in capital Kabul, killing two Russian diplomats, among others. Blast at Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque inside Kabul’s diplomatic zone 23 Sept caused casualties and bore hallmarks of ISKP. Blast at mosque in Kabul 23 Sept killed at least seven worshippers; similar attack on school in Kabul killed at least 19 students 30 Sept. Meanwhile, Taliban 13 Sept launched major offensive in Panjshir and Andarab provinces against insurgents. Some anti-Taliban political figures, notably National Resistance Front leader, 15 Sept gathered in Austrian capital Vienna. Al-Qaeda 12 Sept claimed group had ceased any attacks against U.S. from Afghanistan.

August 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

U.S. killed al-Qaeda chief in first high-profile strike since Aug 2021 withdrawal, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) targeted Taliban and religious minorities, and Taliban clashed with Pakistani forces. U.S. President Biden 1 Aug confirmed U.S. had killed al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri, in drone strike in capital Kabul on 31 July; Washington accused Taliban authorities of violating Feb 2020 Doha agreement by providing sanctuary to al-Zawahiri, while Taliban countered U.S. conducted strike without informing them. Reports surfaced 5 Aug of widespread protests across country condemning strike. Leaked U.S. intelligence assessment 13 Aug argued al-Qaeda had not regrouped in country. Over 3,000 tribal and religious leaders 19 Aug gathered in Kandahar, including Taliban Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, to condemn strike and call on neighbours not to cooperate with such “violations of Afghan sovereignty”, as reports suggested U.S. and Pakistan neared deal on U.S. use of Pakistani airspace for future operations. ISKP continued recruitment and lethal attacks. In early Aug, security forces arrested several ISKP cells; recent arrests of Tajiks indicated ISKP’s inroads in recruiting ethnic minority groups. ISKP attacked Hazara civilians in lead-up to Ashura religious commemorations, with three attacks 3-6 Aug. ISKP suicide bombing 11 Aug killed senior Taliban-affiliated cleric Rahimullah Haqqani. ISKP 18 Aug claimed attack on Sufi mosque in Kabul. Insecurity persisted elsewhere. New armed group Watandost Front published video claiming attack on 1 Aug against Taliban forces in Herat province (west). Unknown assailants 8 Aug killed senior Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Omar Khalid Khorasani in IED blast in Paktika province (east). High Resistance Council for Saving Afghanistan – anti-Taliban resistance group formed in May – 15 Aug held virtual meeting attended by Ahmad Massoud, leader of National Resistance Front (NRF), which resulted in issuance of group’s constitution; NRF also announced its basic principles after meeting. Pakistani and Taliban forces 8 and 22 Aug clashed in Kunar (east) and Paktya (south east) provinces. Taliban defence minister 17 Aug rejected possibility of compromise on Wakhan Corridor amid social media rumours Pakistan might attempt to encroach on thin strip of Afghan territory in order to gain direct access to Central Asia.

July 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

UN voiced concerns over human rights under Taliban’s governance, while Taliban continued to battle Islamic State Khorasan Province and Northern Resistance Front. UN Human Rights Council 1 July began session discussing human rights of women and girls in country and adopted resolution reaffirming commitment to rights, including education and free movement. In report on human rights, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 19 July reported “erosion of women’s rights has been one of the most notable aspects of the de facto administration to date”. In attempt to garner domestic legitimacy, Taliban authorities organised gathering of nearly 4,500 scholars and community leaders; participants 2 July pledged allegiance to Taliban Emir, denounced rebellion against govt, and called on international community to recognise Taliban govt. On economic front, hardship continued. Local media reports 18 July indicated some 170,000 retired civil servants are yet to receive pensions. Senior Pakistani trade delegation 20 July visited Kabul to discuss continuation of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. De facto govt during month sought to reopen women-led businesses, notably in capital Kabul (east), Jowzjan (north), Balkh (north), Herat (west) and Kandahar (south). Meanwhile, Taliban launched raids against Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP): notably, security forces 16 July raided ISKP hideout in Kunduz city (north), allegedly against cell responsible for recent cross-border attacks into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; 19 July launched raid in Samangan province (north), where they killed ISKP members allegedly responsible for beheading of Taliban fighter on 14 July; 20 July allegedly captured three foreign fighters in Kabul. NGO Human Rights Watch 7 July accused de facto authorities of committing war crimes in their fight against ISKP. UN Sanctions Monitoring Team 19 July reported that al-Qaeda in country does not pose major international threat for now due to lack of capacity and need to stay on good terms with Taliban. Fighting in north also continued between Taliban and Northern Resistance Front (NRF). NRF 7 July purportedly captured Taliban military base in Baghlan province. Taliban mid-July launched offensive against NRF in Baghlan’s Andarab region. NRF leader Ahmad Massoud 12 July claimed NRF had 3,000 armed fighters.

June 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Intra-Taliban debate over social policies continued, World Bank announced new economic projects, and fighting between Taliban and opposition groups persisted. Video 6 June surfaced showing Kabul governor stating current situation regarding women is not acceptable and urged ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice to implement decrees in capital. Deputy FM Abbas Stanikzai 19 June criticised govt’s decision not to reopen girls’ secondary schools. Meanwhile, World Bank 3 June approved three projects totaling $793mn to support essential food, livelihood and health services for Afghans. Taliban govt continued measures in attempt to resuscitate economy, including launching “Afghan Invest” enterprise mid-month and hosting trade show for female entrepreneurs in Kabul 9 June. Media reports early month indicated country’s exports to Pakistan have increased during financial year, from $550mn last year to more than $700mn. Groups opposing Taliban rule continued attacks. Fighting between National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and Taliban security personnel persisted in Andarab district in Baghlan province (north) and Panjshir province (north). Notably, NRF fighters 17 June downed helicopter operated by Taliban and captured four prisoners in Panjshir. NGO Human Rights Watch 10 June accused Taliban security forces of war crimes in Panjshir, claims which UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett tentatively endorsed same day; NGO Amnesty International 16 June accused Taliban of “torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrest of civilians” in Panjshir. Standoff persisted between Maulawi Mehdi, Shia Hazara Taliban commander, and Taliban security personnel in Balkhab District in Sar-e Pol province (north), raising prospect of first instance of significant intra-Taliban clashes; central authorities removed Mehdi as local intelligence chief in Nov 2021. Taliban forces 28 June launched attack on Balkhab district, capturing district capital following day; residual fighting likely in coming days. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) 18 June claimed attack on Sikh temple in Kabul, killing at least two people and injuring seven; group said attack was retaliation for derogatory comments made by India’s ruling party (see India).

May 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban imposed further restrictions on women’s rights, opposition stepped up deadly attacks in north, and authorities engaged in regional de-escalation initiatives. After March decision banning girls’ access to secondary schools, govt 7 May announced new restrictions with “hijab” ruling requiring face veil for women when in vicinity of non-family male members; move immediately prompted Western condemnation, further complicating aid efforts. Some govt officials suggested ruling was necessary to appease hardliners, while Minister of Interior Sirajuddin Haqqani 17 May stated girls’ secondary education will resume shortly without stipulating timeline. Leaked decree 16 May also suggested govt had dissolved multiple commissions, including Independent Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, UN 13 May warned that it will have to reduce number of Afghans it is helping from 38% to 8% due to lack of funding; UN human rights rapporteur in Afghanistan 14 May conducted visit to country 15-26 May, expressed concerns about “serious human rights challenges”, including severe restriction on women’s freedoms. Opposition continued to launch stepped-up attacks in north. Notably, violence early May rose in Panjshir province after video surfaced on social media of Taliban fighters dancing near mausoleum of senior resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud during Eid celebrations 1-2 May. While Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid 5 May distanced govt from these actions, by next day rumours had emerged of serious fighting between National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and Taliban in Takhar, Panjshir, Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces. Govt initially denied reports, but over coming days sent significant reinforcements to north and began claiming victories over rebels. Recent fighting reinvigorated opposition, with High Resistance Council for Saving Afghanistan holding gathering condemning Taliban injustices and calling fighting in north “legitimate” without explicitly endorsing NRF. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) continued attacks during month; notably, ISKP 8 May reportedly fired Katyusha rockets into Tajikistan. Regionally, tensions with neighbours eased somewhat. Pakistan 18 May participated in Taliban-hosted talks with Pakistan Taliban group (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, TTP) (see Pakistan); Iran 12 May hosted Taliban delegation following another round of border clashes prompted by videos purporting to show mistreatment of Afghan refugees and Afghan immigrant stabbing three Iranian clerics in Mashhad city.

April 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban announced farming restrictions which could aggravate economic crisis, series of terror attacks claimed over one hundred civilian casualties, and several new armed resistance groups emerged. In move that is likely to exacerbate financial woes of many farmers, Taliban 3 April announced ban on cultivation of all poppy crops and production of all other narcotics (including alcohol); implementation remained uncertain. Taliban also reportedly increased interference in humanitarian efforts in April, pushing for aid to be distributed in coordination with govt. After relatively calm months, country witnessed several mass casualty attacks coinciding with Spring season, mostly targeting Shia Hazara ethnic minority, as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) launched some of its deadliest attacks of year. Notably, bomb blasts 2 April killed five and injured at least 20 people on playground in Herat (west); bomb blasts 19 April targeted Hazara children going to school and education centres in capital Kabul; bomb blasts 21 April targeted minivan in Kunduz province (north), killing at least 18 govt employees; ISKP same day attacked Hazara mosque in Balkh province (north), killing dozens; bomb blasts 22 April targeted Sunni mosque, killing 33 in Kunduz province, with no group claiming responsibility; twin explosions 28 April killed at least nine people on two buses in Balkh province (north), again targeting Hazara. Explosion at Khalifa Sahib Mosque in Kabul 29 April killed over 50 Sunni worshippers. Grievances against Taliban govt appeared to rise, with several new armed resistance groups emerging, bringing total to near dozen such groups active inside country, mostly in northern provinces; National Resistance Front (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud, Afghanistan Freedom Front (purportedly led by former General Zia Yasin) and High Council for Resistance (led by Atta Noor) appeared to be particularly active. Most notably, NRF attacks and Taliban counter-operations continued in Panjshir, Parwan, Kabul, Kapisa, Baghlan and Takhar provinces in April. Meanwhile, relations with Pakistan worsened. Pakistan 16 April launched cross-border airstrikes, resulting in dozens of civilian casualties in Kunar and Khost provinces (east); Taliban authorities warned Islamabad of dire consequences, while Pakistan accused Taliban of failing to prevent Pakistani Taliban from launching cross-border attacks against Pakistani security forces.

March 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban expanded security operations against National Resistance Front (NRF) and reversed pledge on girls’ education, while rising global food prices aggravated humanitarian crisis. Taliban continued to appoint loyalists, including appointments 4 March in defence sector and judiciary and 13 March in civilian and technical positions. Following 25 Feb Taliban large-scale search operations in north, specifically in Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan and Panjshir, in attempt to forestall spring offensive by NRF, Taliban early March expanded operations to Logar and Laghman provinces (east), Baghlan province (north), and Herat and Badghis provinces (west); rumours rose of imminent large-scale operations in Nangarhar province (east). Risk of Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) and NRF resuming operations in warmer weather remained. Meanwhile, Taliban continued restrictions on civil dissent and media freedom. Tolo News 18 March reported authorities had ordered all networks to stop broadcasting foreign drama series; Taliban’s intelligence branch same day briefly arrested senior Tolo News figures. NGO Afghan Journalist Safety Committee 19 March stated that authorities had arrested eleven journalists and media workers within past two days. In first sign of willingness to hold elections, authorities 9 March held municipal poll in one district of capital Kabul. Meanwhile, Taliban introduced economic policies to address unfolding humanitarian crisis; Kabul municipality 6 March imposed price caps on essential commodities and Ministry of Finance 12 March announced tax, arrears and penalty waivers for small taxpayers. Ministry of Education 17 March announced that all schools, including girls’ secondary schools, would open on 23 March; in last-minute reversal, Taliban 23 March decided to close secondary schools to girls, prompting chaotic scenes and widespread international condemnation as female secondary school students took to streets to demand their right to education. On humanitarian front, World Bank 1 March announced plan to use $1bn from Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to address urgent needs in education, health, agricultural and communal livelihood sectors; humanitarian crisis could however further worsen in coming months as donor states consider how to respond to Taliban’s decision on girls’ secondary schools and rising global food prices affect 23mn people on brink of famine.

February 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued to consolidate its rule as international actors unfroze country’s financial assets and pressured regime to respect women’s rights. Taliban continued to fill govt positions with Taliban loyalists. Taliban 2 Feb appointed Qari Salahuddin Ayubi, an ethnic Uzbek, as head of Mansoori army corps, reportedly to appease Uzbek Taliban fighters after arrest of popular Uzbek commander Makhdoom Alam on 12 Jan. Taliban appointed some women in symbolic govt positions, including Dr Malalai Faizi as director of Malalai Maternity Hospital 31 Jan. Taliban information ministry 13 Feb also appointed Nisa Mobarez as women’s representative in Badakhshan province. Some women protesters that were apparently abducted by Taliban authorities were released around 13 Feb following international outrage; Taliban did not officially confirm their arrest or release. Journalists continued to complain of Taliban’s media restrictions including short-term detentions. Taliban authorities also temporarily detained two foreigners working for UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Targeted attacks against former govt figures continued. Unknown assailants 11 Feb attacked former Hizb commander Mohammad Khan’s house, resulting in death of his son, wife and bodyguard; Taliban claimed attack was result of family feud, while Khan rejected claim. Taliban forces 5 Feb arrested at least 24 Baloch separatists from Baloch Liberation Army group, which is waging insurgency against Pakistan (see Pakistan). Attacks by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) subsided, while attacks by Northern Resistance Front (NRF) appeared to be on the rise; NRF-affiliated fighters clashed with Taliban forces in Balkh and Baghlan provinces (north) during month, and Taliban launched major military operations against NRF forces in Panjshir late Feb. Internationally, U.S. President Biden 11 Feb signed executive order to split $7 billion of frozen Afghan reserves, with half of money removed from pending legal cases so it can be utilised “for the benefit of the Afghan people”. World Bank 19 Feb considered plan to use $1 billion in frozen Afghan trust fund for education, agriculture, health and family programs. Meanwhile, Taliban delegation 7 Feb visited Switzerland to discuss humanitarian assistance; 15 Feb visited Qatar’s capital Doha to meet Arab Gulf and EU representatives.

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