Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Kandahar from Razeq to Tadin (2): The collapse foretold that did not happen

Ali Mohammad Sabawoon Thomas Ruttig 19 min

After the assassination in October 2018 of Kandahar’s powerful police chief and ruthless anti-Taleban strongman, General Abdul Razeq, it was feared that the security regime he had installed in central parts of the province might break down without him and the Taleban might capitalise on this. Although fighting has since increased, the feared collapse has not happened. In this second part of a two-part dispatch series, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Ali Mohammad Sabawoon found that, just as Razeq did, his successor, his younger brother, Tadin Khan, has been able to hold on to ‘Middle Kandahar’, while the Taleban have made further gains, mainly in peripheral districts. They also map the current security situation in the province’s five sub-regions. (*)

Afghan police arrive near the 18 July 2019 attack on Kandahar's police headquarters. Photo: Javed Tanveer/AFP.

Fears of breakdown

In the aftermath of Razeq’s assassination, many in Kandahar, as well as international observers, feared the worst when the province’s controversial police chief General Abdul Razeq was assassinated two days before last year’s parliamentary election on 20 October 2018. Without this key figure, they thought, security at least in those parts of the province wrought from Taleban control by him since he took over his last position in April 2011 could fall back into the hands of the insurgents (for biographical detail on Razeq, see this AAN dispatch) and could threaten government control over Kandahar city.

The International Crisis Group wrote that his death would likely do “the greatest damage to the morale of the Afghan security forces”. The US military’s daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, cited anonymous analysts saying the Taleban “would likely start attacking districts [Razeq]’s forces had previously secured.” A local Afghan journalist had told AAN before Razeq’s assassination that, if the insurgents succeeded in doing so, or he was removed by President Ashraf Ghani, the situation in the province could get out of hand as “some of his fellows around him might try to damage the security, pretending that it was only Razeq who could maintain the security of Kandahar province.” The local observer drew parallels to neighbouring Uruzgan, where the situation had indeed severely deteriorated after the assassination of its police chief, Matiullah, in March 2015. Matiullah had often been compared to Razeq, both for age and style (background in this paper). Also, in Helmand, the pro-government commanders’ network had unravelled by 2016 (AAN analysis here). The government postponed the Kandahar election for a week, but, in the end, no major incidents occurred.

Some people – mainly Afghan politicians, journalists and analysts – were less pessimistic. Ahmad Shah Separ, a Kandahari political activist and a candidate for the 2018 Wolesi Jirga elections, argued that the system Razeq had established, with his ‘sub-commanders’, was much more consolidated than most people often assumed. Jan Agha Ishaqzai, a tribal elder and resident of Panjwayi district, told AAN “Kandahar’s security in fact depends on the foreign troops.” If the foreigners assist Razeq’s brother and successor Tadin as they did with Razeq, “the security will definitely maintain as it is. Without them, neither Razeq could have maintained security nor will his brother.” Another 2018 Wolesi Jirga candidate, who did not want to be named, told AAN that Razeq’s and Tadin’s tribe, the Atsakzai, had suffered 6,500 people killed while supporting Razeq, either as police, or in other capacities, and that this would ensure continued support for Razeq’s brother.

These dire predictions have not materialised. There has been no general Taleban offensive against Kandahar city, neither in the immediate aftermath of the assassination when the feeling of insecurity was strongest, nor in subsequent months. Fighting has picked up, but not massively, and mainly in the more peripheral areas of the province that during Razeq’s tenure were not fully controlled by his forces. (We look into these areas later in this analysis.) Also, the postponed parliamentary election in Kandahar on 27 October 2018 was held without any major security incident in the province, although the Taleban had urged that “no stone should be left unturned” to prevent the poll (an AAN report about the Kandahar elections here).(1)

Tadin’s takeover

Tadin Khan was appointed new provincial police chief on 22 October 2019, only four days after Razeq’s assassination. There is almost no biographical data about him. Aikins and Gopal do not mention him at all. He is not known to have played any military role in his assassinated brother’s structures; one media report mentioned that he has no military training. However, various local sources allege that he did oversee his brother’s finances, ie the collection of ‘taxes’ in Spin Boldak. Aikins, for example, mentioned that traders operating in the Afghan-Pakistani trans-border trade had to pay “petrol taxes” to Razeq’s border police forces. These functions have since been taken over by another brother to Razeq, Abdul Khaleq, who ran a business in Dubai and was called back to Spin Boldak to take over Tadin’s former duties.

During his first press conference on 14 November 2018, Tadin assured the residents of Kandahar that he would follow in his brother’s footsteps and maintain Kandahar’s security. He also said that the military structure will remain the same as it was in Razeq’s time (media report here and a video here), reassuring his sub-commanders that they need not fear for their positions and fiefs. Also, when it comes to bellicose rhetoric, Tadin followed in his brother’s footsteps. In May 2019, he stated “I have directed all security forces in Kandahar not to show mercy to the Taliban and eliminate them where you see them.”

On what would be a positive development, Separ, the Kandahari activist quoted before, told AAN in late 2018 that targeted killings, which in Kandahar had been partly attributed to Razeq (see this HRW report), had “not happened since his assassination.” Nematullah Nurzai, the tribal elder from Spin Boldak, confirmed to AAN that he heard from personnel working in the Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar city that, since Razeq’s assassination, no new dead bodies “whose causes of death were unknown” had been brought to the hospital.

On the political side, some of the heavy-handedness known from Razeq’s time has continued under Tadin’s rule. On 6 February 2019, the Pajhwok News Agency reported that Kandahar’s deputy IEC chief, Harun Keliwal, had told them that he had been abducted at gunpoint by what he called “[armed men of] two unsuccessful Wolesi Jirga candidates” from the October 2018 parliamentary election. According to him, he was taken to Aino Mena and forced at gunpoint, while being filmed, to read out a letter that accused him and the IEC chief, Dr Nematullah Wardak, of rigging the elections by not having counted all votes. It was known that both candidates were affiliated with Razeq and Tadin. Wardak confirmed the incident and said he had reported it to IEC headquarters in Kabul. Security analysts in Kabul also confirmed the incident. AAN has also been told by sources that declined to be identified that armed men linked with the two candidates had previously entered the IEC compound in Kandahar during the election and committed ballot staffing. While details remain murky, and AAN was unable to find out about any official follow-up on the alleged assaults, the incidents reflect that there is still a climate of fear in Kandahar under Tadin when it comes to powerful political actors seen to be linked to the security forces.

However, in media appearances Tadin cuts a much weaker stature than his brother did (see this video for example) who was also considered too young to make a permanent mark, particularly during the first post-Taleban years.

Kandahar’s Herat gate (in election time, 2005).


More Taleban gains at the periphery

In the weeks immediately after Razeq’s assassination, the Taleban indeed seemed to try to capitalise on the situation on the assumption that Tadin might not be capable to fill his killed brother’s shoes. At least this was how the government presented it. Zia Durranai, the spokesman of Kandahar police, told the media in early November that they launched assaults in the districts of Maiwand, Shorabak, Khakrez, Maruf and Arghestan, but that government forces had defeated those assaults and killed a large number of their fighters. Those areas are largely the same ones where there had been fighting over previous years, ie there was no territorial extension of Taleban activities, as yet.

Durranai also underlined that, in his view, “the people and all security forces are very cooperative with the new police chief” and that “the security in Kandahar city, as well as in the districts, remains as stable as it was in General Razeq’s lifetime.” Some days later Durranai even gave AAN a much less dangerous sounding version of those assaults. He said they were rather limited to four police posts only, two in Maruf, one in Arghestan (Sandarzo) and one in Khakrez (Mandigak). Ahmad Sadiq Isa, the spokesman of the local Afghan National Army Corps No 205, also known as Atal (hero) Corps, told the media separately in mid-November that actually government forces had accelerated operations against the Taleban in the province. According to his statement, the operations included airstrikes in three areas of Maiwand district, including the Band-e Timur area – and that Mullah Sharifullah, the Taleban’s shadow governor for the district, was among those killed. (The Taleban neither confirmed nor denied this.) This all sounded more like an exercise in propaganda in an attempt to show that everything was under control.

Meanwhile, independent reports showed there has been more fighting than the government has admitted. Afghan media reported (see for example here) that fighting was not limited to the five districts mentioned by Nazek and Durranai, while the specifics of the reported fighting suggested the Taleban’s offensive was a half-hearted affair. Over the following weeks and months, government force’s control was eroded further in some areas, continuing a trend from the last year under Razeq.

Kandahar’s far east and the desert south

Haji Ghulam Muhammad, for example, a tribal elder from Arghestan, told AAN on 14 November 2018 that more than a few clashes had happened in his district, which was an area previously ridden of significant Taleban activity by Razeq. He said the situation there had become “very bad” again after Razeq’s death, with “fighting every day in our district.” He added that there had been fighting before Razeq’s assassination, too, but it had increased afterwards. Of particular importance were reports of increasing criminality such as robberies. This was reported in Neway Kelay (the ‘new village’, a few kilometres to the south of Wesh Bazar, a famous market on the Spin Boldak border) and in other border areas, as well as in the Shor Andam Kotal area of Kandahar city. Nematullah Nurzai, a tribal elder from Spin Boldak told AAN about these incidents. He said that when Razeq was alive the criminals he suspected of the robberies would not have dared to commit such deeds, as Razeq had cracked down on them also ruthlessly.

Things changed somewhat in the first quarter of 2019. Janan Gulzai, a member of provincial council from Maruf district, confirmed to AAN as early as 13 January 2019 that the security in a number of districts had deteriorated after Razeq’s assassination. He listed Maiwand, Shah Wali Kot, Khakrez, Takhtapul, Reg and Shorabak. He also confirmed that Arghestan was particularly bad, with fighting “every day” and the district centre was under Taleban siege. He told AAN “some of the people, who were working in the government [there] left their jobs. The Taleban did not harm them, and had announced that those who leave their jobs with the government would not be tortured or killed.” Janan added that those who were afraid of the Taleban moved their families into more secure areas. For example, he said, “Haji Sardar Muhammad, who was the commander of the local ALP unit, left his job. He shifted 30 family members and relatives to Kandahar city. Nek Muhammad, another ALP commander in the Babara area of Arghestan, also left his job and shifted his family to Spin Boldak.” Haji Zmarai, head of the provincial Public Protection Police Force department, and another police commander were killed, along with two civilians in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on 17 March 2019. Gulzai added that in Daman district also the Taleban had turned up close to the district centre in Makian, an area only two kilometres away.

The situation in eastern Maruf district was similar. There, the Taleban had been surrounding the district centre already for two years. In early December 2018, it became the scene of one of the most spectacular incidents in the province in months when a captured Humvee vehicle packed with explosives went off prematurely leaving at least 37 militants dead, according to government sources. The provincial governor’s spokesman, Aziz Ahmad Azizi, said the group were apparently looking to target an Afghan army compound there that were the only government presence in Maruf. Prior to that, a pedestrian carried out a suicide attack against the ANP headquarters in the same district centre on 2 October 2018.

In late February, the Taleban reported the capture of Maruf’s district centre. Deputy provincial police chief, Brigadier General Rahmatullah Atrafi, denied the claim. He told Afghan media the district centre had been shifted from a mountainous location to a safer area and that the Taleban had taken over the empty old centre.

On 30 June 2019, Taleban carried out an even heavier attack on Maruf’s new district centre, when they detonated four stolen Humvees full of explosives outside the district governor’s compound that housed the local police headquarters, according to adefence ministry spokesman. They killed 11 Afghan security force members and eight staff members of the Independent Election Commission who had been conducting voter registration in the district and staying at the compound (media reports here and here).

On 16 February, police chief Tadin confirmed a Taleban attacked on a border police base in the Sro Sahano area of Shorabak district in the southern desert. He said 16 Taleban were killed and nine other injured and that nine border police were also killed and two injured in the assault. A Taleban spokesman, Qari Yusef Ahmadi, claimed the Taleban temporarily took over the base, killed 23 police and captured weapons and vehicles.

Spin Boldak

When AAN talked to Nurzai from Spin Boldak again on 15 January 2019, he also spoke of regular fighting in the district now. Three day before, Nurzai said, Taleban had attacked the Parsha border police post in the Rabat area, killing nine police and taking three of them alive. He said that this was the first time that the Taleban had attacked and destroyed such a post in that area. On 8 July 2019, Nurzai told AAN that, the night before, the Taleban overran a post in Mullah Nur Muhammad Akhund village in the Kadani area, nearly 20 kilometres east of Spin Boldak and that there were no other posts left in that area, while the government forces had withdrawn to a former US base in the Katsi area.

A security analyst in Kabul told AAN that Razeq’s and Tadin’s home district had seen a rise in incidents from four per month between August and October 2018 to ten between November 2018 and January 2019. (The ‘fighting season’ from May to July 2018 had recorded 18 Taleban attacks.) The number of incidents further increased from the first to the second quarter of 2019, with the first quarter already higher than the fourth quarter of 2018.

According to the analyst, two attacks in December and January, including the one mentioned by Nurzai, stood out for two reasons. First, the high number of Taleban fighters involved (over 50 in both cases) and the casualties inflicted on the border police (17 killed on 16 December, and 16 killed and eight wounded on 4 January. Second, the level of coordination involved “likely impossible during Razeq’s rule, even though Spin Boldak saw two complex attacks earlier in 2018.” However, in the past two months (June and July), the situation in the district has been calmer again according to security analysts in Kabul. But this is likely to be part of the normal pattern of ups and downs in the fighting.

The mountainous north

In the second-most important district in the northern part of Kandahar, Khakrez, the Taleban also made gains after Razeq’s demise. Media reported in May 2019 that they have practically laid siege to the district centre, without attempting to take it. Since then, there was no further fighting reported. This indicated that the situation was static, with the Taleban having the upper hand, as in other parts of the province. Khakrez was also the scene of another case of civilians killed by a Taleban IED when, on 15 July 2019, a truck hit an IED on its way to a shrine killing at least 11 members of one family and injuring 35 other civilians. A similar incident in Dand district had killed six civilians only a few days earlier. (2)

Shah Wali Kot, together with Maiwand in Middle Kandahar, accounted for 50 per cent of the security incidents initiated by the insurgents in the province. According to security analysts in Kabul who have been monitoring the area for years, this fighting was continuing on a par with previous levels. The district remained the scene of frequent fighting over the two roads leading to Uruzgan province, the latest episode being from May 2019 (media report here). 

West and Middle Kandahar; Kandahar city

Maiwand, where Razeq’s reach never extended much beyond the district centre due to the Ishaqzai tribe’s fierce resistance, remained active because of its massive Taleban presence, which also made it the target of frequent airstrikes.

Apart from in the periphery, assassinations and bomb attacks continued in Kandahar city, or nearby, after Tadin’s takeover. On 1 January 2019, the Taleban blew up an explosives-filled, 800-meter-long tunnel (or even two kilometres according to an international source) under the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Mandozo area of Maiwand district. This is a tactic they had used before when, in April 2011, they organised a large-scale prison break in Kandahar. Lieutenant Colonel Khwaja Yahya Alawi of Kandahar’s ANA corps said seven soldiers were killed and others injured in this attack. A Taleban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahed, claimed 30 soldiers had been killed in this assaultDespite the casualties, the base was not taken over and did not suffer irreparable damage.

The Kabul-based security analyst already quoted above said this trend has been unbroken after Razeq’s assassination and counted eight incidents of assassinations for November and December 2018 alone. There were four more in January 2019, including one on 25 December when two unidentified armed men on a motorbike attacked the vehicle of Munawar Ahmad Wahedi, a Wolesi Jirga candidate in district five of Kandahar city, near De Jamhuriat Tsalai (the Republic Tower). According to a Kandahar police spokesman, Zia Durranai, Wahedi was not in the vehicle, but his driver was killed and another man with him injured.

A second Kabul-based analyst added that there was a mix of civilian and ANSF targets in these incidents and that the Taleban took credit for the latter, while the former remained unclaimed. At the same time, he told AAN, he thinks this type of incident has been under-reported. The first security analyst quoted earlier has told AAN several times that the attacks “inside or just near“ the protected Aino Mina estate “may signal a [Taleban] willingness to test the water a bit more” on what it was possible to do in the city after Razeq’s demise. The same analysts added that September 2018 – the month before Razeq’s assassination – had been “exceptionally ‘busy’ for the city” with “a concentration [of attacks] towards the city centre” and “infiltration routes coming from the south of the city being reactivated.” The analyst added that “in hindsight, it may have been probing attacks” in preparation for the hit against Razeq.

Shrine in Dand district, Kandahar.


A spring lull

In spring 2019, fighting in Kandahar province subsided, apart from a few small-scale attacks. This was mainly due to severe countrywide flooding in March and April that had affected Kandahar particularly badly and had interrupted the insurgents’ movements and logistics. The UN special envoy’s report to the Security Council of June 2019 put Kandahar among the three most affected provinces. Security analysts also reported a lull over Ramadan in May and June. Kandahar city saw 15 smaller IED attacks, drive-by shootings and assassinations in May alone, according to a Kabul-based analyst, but he was unable to find out how many of them happened before and during Ramadan.

However, this was temporary. After the end of Ramadan, new fighting, including Taleban attacks and US airstrikes, was reported from ten Kandahar districts – Shah Wali Kot, Khakrez, Mianeshin, Maiwand, Maruf, Khakrez, Dand, Arghandab, Takhtapul and Spin Boldak (the latter according to AAN sources in Kandahar; not reported in the media) – as well as more IED attacks, drive-by shootings and assassinations in Kandahar city. The attacks in Takhtapul’s district centre against a border force unit (16 members and eight Taleban killed) and in rural Spin Boldak against a police base (ten police killed, 28 missing) were so-called complex attacks.

In May, a NATO convoy was attacked and five Romanian soldiers injured, according to government sources. There have been three more attacks on Romanian soldiers in April and May 2019 in unspecified locations of Kandahar. It was reported that at least one of those incidents,in which two Romanian soldiers were injured on 6 May (according to another report they were even killed) was an insider attack. The Romanian soldier’s role is primarily to guard the US/NATO base at Kandahar airfield.

Fighting patterns

A particular feature of the fighting in recent years has been how the fighting has also picked up in winter, when usually this is a time when fighting is usually less intense. A journalist who visits Maiwand district frequently told AAN that, in 2017/18, there had been no winter pause in fighting for the first time for many years. He said that during the colder season insurgents would shift their attention from larger scale attacks to planting roadside mines, assassinating government officials and launching bomb attacks mainly in Kandahar city. Also, fighters would go on leave to Quetta. However, that winter their leaders did not allow this anymore and asked the low-level Taleban especially to stay. The journalist also pointed out another reason for this changed behaviour. This being harassment and arrest by the Pakistani police as many Taleban fighters lack Pakistani ID cards. He said this could reflect Pakistani pressure on the fighters to keep the pressure up in Kandahar.

Hamdullah Nazek, former governor of Dand district and an ally of Razeq (he also was police chief of Zabul province, head of the NDS in Helmand province and a candidate in the 2018 Wolesi Jirga elections) said that Kandahar had witnessed fighting during winter for the last three years. He added that it had never been as intense as in early 2018. A Kabul-based security analyst confirmed this trend since 2014/15 that had indeed been stronger in 2017/18.

Analysts told AAN that, as in other provinces, the Taleban are pulling together fighters from various districts for larger operations, if necessary. Local sources told AAN that the Taleban sometimes “buy” government forces manning posts – ie they bribe the staff to surrender – or, when capturing a post’s staff, extort money from the government to have the policemen released.

Overall, as Kabul-based security analysts told AAN, Razeq’s successful weakening of the Taleban was “still in effect,” that the local Afghan National Army and ANP units have proven effective and that their “sense of duty,” in spite of “their high casualty rates” over many years, had “paid off in the end.” Razeq’s sub-commanders continued to secure their areas of influence effectively. Finally, as one of them said, the Taleban were not “as strong and invincible as many people describe them.”

Police checkpost at the outskirts of Kandahar toward Dand (2005).


Government counter-offensives

In two instances, government forces tried to reverse the Taleban gains by initiating larger-scale offensives in early 2019. Starting on 6 February 2019, they tried to relieve the siege of Arghestan and reach encircled Maruf with a week-long operation in the strategically important Wam Valley, located between the two far eastern most districts of the province. Maruf is only accessible from Kandahar through Arghestan. Tadin told the media the operation’s aim was to open the road between the two district centres, which had been blocked by the Taleban, and to prevent insurgent activities in the area. It included airstrikes in Arghestan carried out by foreign forces on 7 February, killing 25 insurgents and injuring 17, according to Tadin.

The operation was treated as very high profile. It included a personal visit by Tadin, along with the Kandahar ANA corps commander, General Imam Nazar Behbud, and a Resolute Support commander to the area before it started. It was also discussed to raise local units of the ANA Territorial Army (AAN background here). While government sources claimed the Arghestan-Maruf road had been reopened, according to the Kabul-based security analyst, this was only a temporary success; “results on the ground were close to nil – no territory taken by the government, and the [Taleban] remaining in full control.”

In late April and May 2019, government forces attacked the Taleban forces in Khakrez where they had laid siege to this district centre as well. In order to cut the insurgents off from supplies, they closed small roads and dirt tracks leading into the area, resulting in a temporary severe food shortage for the local population. The blockades were lifted in late May when the fighting ended, but without really changing the situation.

There were also several reports of successful government forces’ attacks on and arrests of militants in Kandahar province, including the provincial capital (see examples here and here).

Graveyard in the courtyard of Kandahar’s Kherqa-ye Mubarak shrine. All photos in the text: Thomas Ruttig (2005)



No full-fledged Taleban onslaught

The Taleban’s major onslaught on Kandahar city after Razeq’s assassination in October 2018 has not materialised. Despite the partial Taleban comeback that was already evident mainly in the peripheral areas of Kandahar province during the last years of Razeq’s life, the pro-government forces’ hold over the province, and particularly in its central parts, has remained relatively stable. This is particularly noticeable when compared with the much more volatile situation in the neighbouring provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan. The number of security incidents since has slightly increased in the province and Taleban activity has seen a gradual upturn in a number of districts as the Taleban have edged closer to some more districts centres.

The security structure put in place by Razeq had the support of the US military. Local tribal and family networks have proven more stable than expected, even under his relatively inexperienced brother and successor Tadin. Kandahar’s more diversified power distribution has contributed to this stability, while local ANA and ANP units have proved effective ensuring that Razeq’s successful weakening of the Taleban has remained in effect. Also, it appears that the Taleban’s local strength might have been overestimated. Another contributing factor was possibly the fact that the Taleban assassinated Razeq before President Ghani could relieve him of his post that would have driven surviving allies into the opposition camp and possibly caused more instability. Instead, Razeq was turned into a national hero of the fight against the Taleban. Meanwhile, government offensives have not substantially changed the situation.

Although Tadin’s position is bolstered by the same combination of supporting factors that Razeq relies upon – US and tribal support and a network of loyal commanders –, he seems to be less charismatic than his assassinated elder brother. He also is not known to have fighting and planning experience. This would make him easier to be manipulated by local interests, and probably easier to handle by US advisors. This does not exclude the fact that he might grow, at least partly, into the powerful role his brother had played.

Kandahar’s fluid geography of control

The Taleban continue to have the upper hand in territorial control in Kandahar province. Apart from the provincial capital, government forces only fully or predominantly control the districts of Spin Boldak, Dand, Daman and Arghandab out of Kandahar’s 17 official and unofficial districts. This does not preclude fighting, terrorist attacks and assassinations in these areas – on the contrary. In Maruf in the east and Ghorak, Nesh, Mianeshin and, after recent Taleban forays, in Khakrez – all in the north – only the district centres are in the government’s hands and remain practically under Taleban siege. In Arghestan, also in the east, in Maiwand in Middle Kandahar and in the southern districts of Reg and Shorabak, the situation is not much different. The Long War Journal (its interactive map here) even registers Maruf, Ghorak, Nesh and Mianeshin as fully “Taleban-controlled.” Shah Wali Kot, Panjwayi, Zhari and Takhtapul are highly contested and the Taleban control more than half the territory of each of them.

As a result, Kandahar city is surrounded, more or less close to it, by four active front lines across all points of the compass. Although the Taleban have not established themselves permanently close to the city limits, as they have in Lashkargah (Helmand, despite some recent improvement on the government forces’ side there) and Tirinkot (Uruzgan), parts of its immediate environs and the city itself are regularly the arena for terrorist attacks, assassinations and small-scale shootings.

A lost chance

Razeq’s death provided a chance to establish a security concept in Kandahar that was more law-based and less on military stability only. With the succession of Tadin and maintaining local security structures as those that emerged under Razeq, local Afghan elites (who, like ex-president Karzai often attack the US forces for creating scores of civilian casualties) and the US military opted for continuity of the ‘not-by-the-rules’ approach.

Of course, it could be argued that the deteriorating security situation in neighbouring Uruzgan, after the local strongman Matiullah’s assassination, has proven that this did not work. Razeq’s allies might have defected and – as it happened after local ‘kings’ were removed from long-standing provincial offices in Herat, Helmand and Balkh – might have contributed to more insecurity, if only to show how ‘good’ their masters were in maintaining ‘security.’ But this is not a valid argument against conventional policing methods and a law-based approach to them. It is just a sign of how thin the layers of professional and loyal police officers, how weak loyalties in the still faction-ridden and often ‘privately owned’ Afghan police and how strong what local source call ‘mafia structures’ in Kandahar are after 18 years of police reform.

Edited by Danielle Moylan and Sari Kouvo


(*) The research has been hampered by the absence of comparable sets of data for the districts level, for example, about the numbers of incidents or district control. The two main and only data providers on this so far, SIGAR and EASO, have discontinued this reporting in 2018 and in 2019. Also, UNAMA’s regular reports about civilian casualties do not contain data broken down to regions, provinces or districts.The findings of the research have been discussed and double-checked with a number of political, media and civil society activists in Kandahar, as well as three Afghan and international analysts based in Kabul, who have been watching Kandahar for their organisations for a long-time. Some of the former and the latter have asked to remain anonymous, but we have tried to distinguish between them in our attribution.


(1) Outside Kandahar, particularly in the strongly Taleban-influenced districts of Reg, Shorabak, Ghorak, Khakrez and Shah Wali Kot, turnout was low and limited to the immediate district centres. In two districts, Maruf and Nesh, there was no voting at all.

(2) In October 2018, UNAMA released a report pointing out the “extreme levels” of “killing and maiming of Afghan civilians by Improvised Explosive Devices”.





Kandahar Razeq Spin Boldak Tadin Taleban


Ali Mohammad Sabawoon

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