Afghanistan is a landlocked country that shares extensive borders with Pakistan; Iran; and the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as well as the narrow Wakhan Corridor with China. In July 2020, the Republic of Afghanistan joined the Arms Trade Treaty.[1] While the Afghan drug trade has been widely studied, little research has been done on weapons smuggling and the extent to which these proceeds may provide an additional source of revenue for armed groups and terrorist networks. Despite a dramatic decline in opium production under the Taliban,[2] Afghanistan continues to dominate the global illicit supply of opium and also produces methamphetamine that reaches every corner of the globe through well-established overland and maritime smuggling routes.[3]

Since the collapse of the Republic in August 2021, efforts to take stock of the total quantity of weapons and ammunition supplied by the United States and NATO over nearly 20 years have been hindered by weak transfer controls and logistics management systems.[4] Former ANDSF commanders have confirmed reports of widespread ammunition shortages during the final phase of the war. Ammunition was never closely tracked or audited by the United States, however, and shortages and logistics failures plagued the ANDSF for years. For these reasons, even with a full accounting of the total quantity of equipment transferred to the ANDSF, it may still be difficult to specify the number of US- and NATO-supplied arms in the hands of the Taliban.

The former National Directorate of Security (NDS) previously carried out regular seizures of illicit weapons and explosive material at key border crossings with Pakistan. Items were reportedly concealed inside heavy trucks transporting goods from Pakistan to Kabul; in one well-documented case, commercially available night vision riflescopes were purchased on Amazon in the United States and smuggled across the border at Torkham.[5] The scale of weapons smuggling from Afghanistan to Pakistan during the Republic era is difficult to quantify due to a lack of dedicated research and reporting.

The Taliban currently face a host of internal security challenges, including the threat posed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—that is, the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in South and Central Asia based in Afghanistan. The group first emerged in Nangarhar province in 2014 led by a group of former TTP militants from Pakistan and was officially formed in January 2015.[6] In early June 2023, the leader of ISKP in Afghanistan, Sanaullah Ghafari, an Afghan national also known as Shahab al-Muhajir, was reportedly killed along the border with Pakistan.[7]

Initial scepticism over links between ISKP and IS-affiliates elsewhere has since faded, replaced by growing evidence of at least some financial and operational ties.[8] A July 2022 report by the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team notes that, ‘[IS] views Afghanistan as a base for expansion in the wider region for the realization of its “great caliphate” project’.[9] ISKP has also recruited fighters from the ranks of al Qaeda, the TTP, the Afghan Taliban, and other groups,[10] further complicating armed group dynamics and weapons proliferation risks in the region.

The rise in TTP attacks in Pakistan since the Taliban came to power has also strained relations between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan. In June 2022, the Afghan Taliban brokered a ceasefire between the Pakistani government and the TTP. By November 2022, the TTP had unilaterally ended the ceasefire and resumed its terror campaign against the Pakistani state.[11] Since then, attacks have continued to threaten security in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The TTP is widely believed to operate from Afghan soil, with broad security implications for the Taliban and the region.


[1] See UNGA (2020).

[2] See Mansfield (2023).

[3] See, for example, Stone (2022). The 14th report (June 2023) of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team notes that opium prices have increased, as has the production of methamphetamine (UNSC, 2023, pp. 3, 12–13).

[4] See SIGAR (2023, p. 66) for the most comprehensive list of US military equipment supplied to the ANDSF between 2005 and 2021. See also CAR (2021).

[5] See CAR (2022).

[6] See Sayed and Hamming (2023, p. 4) and CSIS (2018).

[7] See Gul (2023) and US (2023).

[8] See Schmitt (2023).

[9] See UNSC (2022, p. 16).

[10] See UNSC (2023, pp. 15–16).

[11] See Hussain (2022).