Afghanistan Analysts Network – English


Thematic Dossier VIII: The evolution of insecurity in Kunduz

AAN Team 8 min

In the last week, the Taleban launched their second large-scale assault on Kunduz in six months and came close to taking the provincial capital, Kunduz City, before being pushed back by Afghan National Security Forces. For the Taleban, Kunduz is probably the key province in the north, the last to be left in 2001 and one where they still have significant pockets of support.

Kunduz, CIP militia (Critical Infrastructure Protection). Photo: Bethany Matta

AAN’s new dossier brings together all of AAN’s reporting on security in Kunduz; shorter dispatches bring detail on the fighting there since 2009, looking at the Taleban, ISAF, militias, the Afghan army, police and local police, and some of the key security appointments. In three academic papers, AAN has looked in depth at the political-military networks which have ruled Kunduz since the 1990s, at how ISAF tried to fight the insurgency partly by empowering local power brokers, and how the insurgency first emerged in the north, as a whole.

The coverage gathered in this dossier has been sorted into two categories: first the papers and then the shorter dispatches. Both are in chronological order with the aim of understanding how the Kunduz story has unfolded.

1. Papers

Local Afghan Power Structures and the International Military Intervention. A Review of Developments in Badakhshan and Kunduz Provinces

Author: Philipp Münch     Date: 12 November 2013

The latest AAN report “Local Afghan Power Structures and the International Military Intervention” looks at how the presence of German and other international military in Kunduz and Badakhshan impacted local power structures. The two provinces serve as case studies to help answer the question if ISAF forces have been successful in supporting the central government to extend its authority to the periphery, in the context of international state building aims in Afghanistan.

The Networks of Kunduz. A history of Conflict and Actors from 1992 to 2001

Author: Nils Wörmer     Date: 2 August 2012

A new Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) report by author Nils Wörmer looks at networks of power in Kunduz province. Wörmer writes that when Germany’s political decision makers opted for Kunduz, in north-eastern Afghanistan, as the location for its future Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and soldiers and governmental development workers started to deploy in 2003, they were widely unaware of the highly complex web of conflict and power structures in that area. The author of this new AAN report adds that a German pre-deployment mission found the situation in Kunduz ‘largely calm and still fairly stable’. But as Wörmer points out in his paper the mission overlooked that the situation was charged with old factional conflicts that were only dormant in what still was the post-Taleban lull.

The Insurgents of the Afghan North. The Rise of the Taleban, the Self-Abandonment of the Afghan Government, and the Effects of ISAF’s ‘Capture-and-Kill’ Campaign

Author: Antonio Giustozzi and Christoph Reuter     Date: 5 May 2011

In this report Antonio Giustozzi and Christoph Reuter describe the rise of the Taleban in northern Afghanistan. They discuss their recruitment and shadow administration, the conduct of the Afghan government, the effects of ISAF’s ‘capture-and-kill campaign’ and how all of this together contributes to a very unstable status quo.

2. Dispatches

The Failed Pilot Test: Kunduz’ local governance crisis

The fighting in Kunduz is only one side of the problem. Also issues not related to security are in disarray. Health care, education, agriculture, reconstruction – all are on hold and do not receive much attention from the newly established top level of local authorities. This, AAN guest author Bethany Matta argues, has much to do with security issues overwhelming everything else –and with the set-up of the unity government on the local level, which seems to be working against each other. The governor, a Pashtun appointed by President Ghani, does not get along with the police chief, a Tajik appointed from the Abdullah camp for ‘balance,’ nor with his deputy, a long-serving mujahed. The largest bone of contention, Matta reports, is the control of the militias – old ones and planned ones.

Author: Bethany Matta     6 June 2015

The 2015 Insurgency in the North: Case studies from Kunduz and Sar-e Pul provinces

Author: Obaid Ali     4 June 2015

Kunduz and Sar-e Pul have both been staging grounds for the Taleban’s first major onslaughts of the ‘spring offensive’ that started in late April – the first under massive public scrutiny, the second a lesser-known example of the same dynamics. In both provinces, the insurgents managed to get close to the provincial centres, at times threatening to take them over. For this dispatch, AAN’s Obaid Ali has looked closer at two specific areas within the provinces – Gortepa in Kunduz and Sheramha in Sar-e Pul, both in close proximity to the respective provincial centres. He describes how the Taleban approached their military operations against the Afghan National Security forces (ANSF), detailing not-yet discussed factors that contributed to their success – such as the insurgents’ skilful use of psychological warfare, the Afghan military’s misjudgements or local powerbrokers’ unwilling opening of avenues for the Taleban’s usurpation of districts.

ANSF Wrong-Footed: The Taleban offensive in Kunduz

Author: Thomas Ruttig     Date: 3 May 2015

The Taleban’s first major onslaught in their ‘spring offensive’ this year took the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by surprise. But after a few days, they were able to react and push the insurgents back in some areas while the latter held their ground in others. Although the ANSF kept control over Kunduz city and all district centres, AAN’s co-director Thomas Ruttig argues that the fighting underlined some of the well-known weaknesses of the ANSF: a lack of coordination between different forces (army, police, local police), possibly exacerbated by recruitment problems that are hidden both by corruption (producing ‘ghost soldiers’ and ‘ghost policemen’) and the current reporting system. The fighting also showed the Taleban able to mount large and simultaneous operations in different areas, but also that they were still a long away from a military victory. (With contributions by Borhan Osman, Ehsan Qaane and Obaid Ali.)

Security in Kunduz Worsening Further: The case of Khanabad

Author: Christian Bleuer and Obaid Ali     Date: 28 October 2014

Kunduz has had the worst security environment of any province in the north for the past few years. And within this province there are several districts that are particularly notable for the intractable conflicts raging within them. One notable area in this regard is Khanabad district, where government forces, nominally pro-government militias, illegal armed groups and the Taleban all vie for power and control, much to the detriment of the local civilians. AAN’s Christian Bleuer and Obaid Ali draw on local sources to analyse the most recent troubles across Khanabad (with contributions from Lola Cecchinel).

Taleban Closing in on the City: The next round of the tug-of-war over Kunduz

Author: Lola Cecchinel     Date: 2 September 2014

Within the past two months, the Taleban have managed to secure additional territory around the provincial capital of Kunduz and have been closing in on the city itself. They also gained nearly full control over several districts of the province. On 12 August and then again around 22 August, the ANSF conducted operations. Authorities claimed they were successful in the most contested areas. However, ANSF cleaning operations have regularly proven unsustainable in the province. AAN guest author Lola Cecchinel summarises what has been happening in Kunduz over the past months and provides district case studies describing the recent spikes of violence in detail. She also analyses the main factors behind the Taleban territorial gains: the acquisition of additional weapons, heightened tensions between actors involved in the elections, the weakness of the anti-Taleban front, particularly the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – and increasing support from the local population. (With input by Christine Roehrs)

Elections 2014 (1): Impressions from Kunduz at the eve of the elections

Author: AAN Team     Date: 4 April 2014

The police chief launches operations to secure insurgency riddled districts. Campaign managers complain about the performance of the IEC. Militia commanders do their best to exhibit power, helping candidates to get more votes for money and incentives offered in case of victory. And then there are those candidates who peacefully compete for the trust of the people, ‘armed’ with just a printer and a mobile phone. AAN has been travelling Kunduz – a province notoriously contested between government, insurgents, militias and criminals (and one we report from regularly) – and watched how it prepared for the vote. Here some first impressions from the eve of the elections.

The End of a Police Chief: Factional rivalries and pre-election power struggles in Kunduz

Author: Lola Cecchinel     Date: 31 January 2014

In the beginning, it looked like good news: had Kunduz police chief, Khalil Andarabi, been sacked because he had led Afghan local Police (ALP) and militia units on a looting rampage against civilians? If this were the case, it would have meant that the bad track record of the Local Police and illegal militias was finally being acknowledged and acted upon. A second look, however, finds that the situation is much more complicated. AAN’s guest author and researcher Lola Cecchinel tells a tale illustrating the intricate power plays in Kunduz and Baghlan before the elections.

The Incident at Coordinate 42S VF 8934 5219: German court rejects claim from Kunduz air strike victims

Author: Thomas Ruttig     Date: 15 December 2013

A district court in the former West German capital Bonn has rejected a case in connection with a lethal airstrike ordered by the commander of the German PRT in Kunduz province four years ago. Families of some of the dozens of victims and a German lawyer of Afghan origin had wanted to sue the German government for compensation, arguing that Colonel (now General) Georg Klein had broken official regulations and therefore the German government was liable for the deaths and injuries caused. If the claimants had been successful, it would have created a precedent and Berlin – and possibly other governments – could have faced similar claims in other cases. The court, however, ruled, on 11 December 2013, that Colonel Klein had not violated any existing regulations to protect civilians from being harmed. It also agreed with the view of the defendant – the German Defence Ministry – that Klein, in his position as PRT commander, was under the command of the NATO-led ISAF mission and not acting solely on behalf of Berlin. The claimants’ lawyer said they intend to appeal. Thomas Ruttig reports (with input from Kate Clark).

Back to Bad: Chahrdara between Taleban and ALP – a district case study

Author: Lola Cecchinel    Date: 6 September 2013

Chahrdara, an embattled district in Kunduz province, is a miniature model for all of Afghanistan’s larger conflicts. Traditionally a hotbed of the insurgency, military interventions could never bring lasting change, so Chahrdara – under heavy foreign siege in 2010 (1) – is back to where it was: a Taleban stronghold in the north. At the same time, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) deployed to the district, set up to fight the insurgency, add to the problems in a startling way – they fight not only against Taleban, but also against civilians and among themselves. AAN’s guest author Lola Cecchinel, who has been doing research in the area for the past year, puts this one district of Afghanistan under the magnifying glass and presents layers and causes of conflicts along but also across ethnic and political lines.

Legal, illegal: Militia recruitment and (failed) disarmament in Kunduz

Author: Gran Hewad     Date: 10 November 2012

Kunduz has a long and troubled history of militia presence. In addition to militia units developed by the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the provincial National Directorate for security (NDS) also recruited some, starting in late 2008. Then, starting last year, the provincial security officials attempted to disarm some militias again, in response to complaints by local people about harassment. These attempts have largely proved ineffective. Gran Hewad (with input by Thomas Ruttig) looks back at how these militias were formed, who they are linked to in the political landscape of Kunduz, and why it is so difficult to disarm them now.

For a Handful of Bolani: Kunduz’s New Problem with Illegal Militias

Author: Gran Hewad     Date: 8 October 2012

One month ago, at around the same time that Taleban attacked what was termed a ‘dancing party’ and killed its participants in the far north of Helmand province, a ‘freelance’ militia group invaded the village of Loy Kanam in Kunduz province and killed 12 people, including a number of innocent civilians. While the Helmand incident sparked worldwide media coverage, the Loy Kanam incident generated much less attention. Another earlier clash between two unofficial militia groups in the Kobayi area, close to Kanam, that led to 13 deaths with three more people injured, still remains unreported.(1) AAN’s researcher Gran Hewad travelled to Kunduz where he learned how the presence of pro-government but unofficial militias affects ordinary people’s lives and, in fact, in some places, is perceived as an even greater danger than that posed by the insurgents.

For a Handful of Dollars: Taleban allowed to join ALP

Author: Kate Clark     Date: 8 January 2011

It’s official: reintegrated Taleban will be able to join the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – referred to more commonly by civilians as militias or arbaki. This is according to the head of ISAF’s Regional Command North (who also said such Taleban might become teachers). In flat contradiction, the MoI told AAN today that Taleban will not be able to join the ALP. Facts on the ground, however, suggest ISAF is correct. The recruitment of former Taleban into the arbaki is just one concern for local civilians, says AAN’s senior analyst, Kate Clark, who has been assessing how the ALP programme in northern Afghanistan is officially encouraging the legitimisation of armed groups.

Militia Sightings

Author: Thomas Ruttig     Date: 29 November 2009

Some see ‘hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.’ But how spontaneously did the new militias really emerge? Here are some reports on the new militias found in the international media.



ALP ANA ANP Kunduz Security Taleban Taliban