Arms smuggling under the Taliban

To explore the possible risk factors for arms proliferation under the Taliban, Afghan Peace Watch (APW) conducted field investigations in late 2022 in three provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand, Kandahar, and Nangarhar. It identified weapons markets or bazaars in border areas that operate with the consent of local Taliban officials, as evidenced by weapon permits and licences obtained by APW.[1] Researchers visited six weapons markets in the three provinces, and obtained paperwork issued to civilians and local weapons dealers on file with the Small Arms Survey. APW interviewed weapons smugglers, low-level Taliban fighters, and local Taliban officials, as well as former ANDSF members and security experts on Afghanistan. Research findings confirm the presence of weapons markets in border areas and indicate ongoing cross-border weapons smuggling, despite an upsurge in weapons seizures made by the GDI. This Situation Update focuses on arms smuggling in Nangarhar due to its proximity to arms markets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

While the Taliban have clamped down on some small-scale smuggling by unauthorized dealers, their own well-established ties with regional terrorist networks are a greater concern. These ties include longstanding and deeply personal relations between fighters and commanders who fought side by side for decades, intermarriages and family connections, as well as a shared ideology and common goals. Interviews and social media monitoring reveal evidence of cross-border smuggling, though this has yet to be fully corroborated by field investigations. Nevertheless, weapons dealers contacted in Dara Adamkhel and Peshawar claim to offer US military equipment for sale.[2] In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, weapons dealers have become more circumspect when offering US military equipment for sale, including M4 and M16 rifles, night vision and thermal sights, and other accessories not normally in circulation in the region.


[1] The term ‘smuggling’ is generally used in this study to refer to the transport and sale of weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment ostensibly intended for end use by the ANDSF and former Afghan government to unauthorized users, including civilians and other armed groups. Cross-border smuggling refers to the movement of weapons, ammunition, and military equipment ostensibly intended for end use in Afghanistan to other countries in the region. The exact level of authorization given by inner-circle Taliban leaders for local and cross-border ‘smuggling’ could not be independently verified by APW.

[2] While the provenance of such material is unproven, in a YouTube video posted on 1 September 2021, just weeks after the collapse, a journalist interviews a weapons dealer in Lahore, Pakistan, detailing US military equipment for sale from Afghanistan. The dealer explains the origin of the equipment—noting that his collection includes ‘captured weapons’ or ‘war booty’ from Afghanistan, referred to locally as ‘mal-e-ghanimat’ in Urdu (, 2021).