Subnational-level policies and practices

Kunduz province

The northern province of Kunduz offers an illustrative example of the struggle to control weapons since August 2021. After the collapse of the Republic, Taliban commanders and fighters seized sizable caches of weapons and ammunition in Kunduz from vacant checkpoints, offices, and military bases. Significant caches were also left at Kunduz airport, home of a major Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) base at the time. Some commanders stationed men at these sites to secure these weapons, while other weapons were transported to their homes or other hiding places.

The new Taliban, however, have made several attempts to catalogue and assert control over these weapons. They began collecting them in September 2021 through two types of efforts. The first—and most significant—measure was undertaken at the provincial level. The governor and chief of police asked all commanders to bring the weapons they had taken, which led to the return of at least some weapons in October and November 2021. The provincial authorities continued to collect weapons every day, and the GDI started raiding houses based on intelligence gathered through other seizures.

At the same time, groups were formed in Kabul within the MoD to carry out inspections of prominent commanders' houses in the provinces. The home of the current head of the Afghan army in Kunduz, for example, was searched, resulting in the seizure of a significant number of weapons and ammunition. He was initially removed from his post, but then reinstated after arguing that he was merely securing and hiding the weapons.

In Kunduz, weapons can be obtained from the central police stations, as elsewhere, but more elaborate policies appear to be in place. The ability to issue weapons and ammunition lies with the provincial police chief, but the amir aminet (the head of security and the first deputy provincial police chief) must also approve by signature for any weapon distribution. Distribution lists are also reportedly shared with the relevant ministries in Kabul.


Helmand province

The Taliban takeover of Helmand was somewhat more orderly than that of Kunduz, and many of the military leaders of the Taliban have strong roots in Helmand. Numerous commanders kept the weapons they obtained by facilitating the surrender of Republic security forces. For example, the current chief of police was then a commander of the Taliban special forces, and both powerful and well known. A number of Republic soldiers and police surrendered to him, handing over their weapons in the process—which the police chief then kept. This practice of keeping the majority, or a significant share, of the weapons surrendered appears to have been relatively commonplace in Helmand. When the current police chief’s mahaz was integrated into the Shorab army corps, his men allegedly used this opportunity to steal and smuggle weapons. Eventually, this racket was uncovered when two vehicles loaded with weapons to be smuggled to Pakistan were intercepted and traced back to the police chief.[1]

Key informants nevertheless reported relatively clear weapons management processes. Weapons storage facilities are mainly in former NATO and Republic bases, such as Camp Bastian. The practice of documenting weapons inventories began after 15 August 2021. Weapons can be officially obtained from the central police station, as well as through the main police training academy.

In general, the Taliban impose strict restrictions—at least on paper—regarding weapon distribution in Helmand, since the distributions are considered unnecessary due to the current absence of fighting. Yet both the provincial police chief and provincial governor—who has comparatively greater influence, as opposed to his counterparts in Kunduz—have the power to distribute weapons. Some high-level commanders often bypass official processes to obtain access to weapons. Weapons are also distributed informally through delgai commanders.

Weapons in the depots are relatively secure. In some cases, powerful commanders have informally taken weapons from these depots, without formal authorization. This practice, however, was described as marginal; while they may be able to take a weapon or two for their own personal use, they cannot walk away with significant quantities of arms or ammunition.


[1] Interviews with Taliban commander, Helmand, 3 December 2022, and Taliban commander, Kandahar, 7 December 2022.