What makes Afghanistan a unique country to travel to?
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including fighting an insurgency, preventing the return or resurgence of al-Qaida, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic, and political infrastructure. NATO and International Security Assistance (ISAF) forces work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat violent extremist elements that terrorize the population and challenge all levels of government authority. Violent extremists continue to pursue a strategy of terrorist attacks, relying largely on assassinations, suicide bombings, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
As Afghanistan prepares for presidential and provincial elections in April 2014, internal problems following years of war and an ongoing, violent insurgency continue to compromise efforts by the Afghan government to improve governance and stability. The government faces challenges in trying to develop a more effective police force, a more effective and accessible legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. Afghan security forces took over responsibility for security nation-wide in June 2013, but the United States works closely with the international community to support and bolster Afghan government capacity on national and sub-national levels.
A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any U.S. citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but if you purchase them, you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Afghanistan, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own and may not afford the protections available to you under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. In some areas of Afghanistan you could be detained for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. Taking pictures of military installations or personnel may result in questioning or detention. Possession of alcohol and certainly driving under the influence of alcohol could land you in jail for three to six months. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If you break local laws in Afghanistan, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what constitutes legal and illegal actions in the area where you are traveling. Persons violating Afghan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Although the Afghan constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing may be viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Authorities take these matters very seriously. Afghan law carries a maximum penalty of death for those charged with proselytizing, if convicted. Evidence may consist of possession of non-Islamic religious material, especially in local languages. Allegations of conversion of Afghan citizens are taken particularly seriously. The testimony of three individuals or a group is enough to convict someone of proselytizing. The same penalty exists in law for Afghan citizens who convert to another religion. All Afghan citizens are considered Muslim from birth. Converts are subject to arrest regardless of where the conversion took place, and Afghan-U.S. dual nationals are also subject to this law.
U.S. citizens have also been arrested by police in cases involving debt to Afghans. In Afghanistan, debts and business disputes are not exclusively civil matters as may be the case in the United States. Instead, the aggrieved party may successfully have a U.S. citizen arrested in cases where a debt is alleged to be owed to an Afghan. The Ministries of Commerce and Interior, Afghan Investment Support Agency, the Afghan National Police, and the courts have all played roles in recent disputes involving U.S. citizens. If involved in a commercial dispute, hiring an Afghan attorney early can be beneficial. A list of English speaking attorneys in the consular district of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul can be found on the Embassy’s website. The list comprises attorneys in Afghanistan officially registered with the Afghan Ministry of Justice who have expressed a willingness to carry out legal services for U.S. citizens. The Embassy does not endorse any particular attorney and the list is not comprehensive; we encourage those seeking legal advice in Afghanistan to utilize other means of finding an attorney.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained.
Dari (Persian) and Pashto are the official languages of Afghanistan. Although Pashto has quite an extensive literature, Dari is used for cultural expression and business and government transactions of the many dialects spoken. The Turkish Uzbek, Turkoman, and Kirgiz are most prevalent in the border regions.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, China and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several Western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (ph. 079-913-6210),French Children’s Hospital (ph. 020-250-0531),and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-988-3830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care but are not always open; if you are seeking treatment you should request U.S. or Western health practitioners.
Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. You will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. If you have medevac insurance, you should confirm with the insurance provider that medevac assistance is available in Afghanistan and which clinics they recommend for evaluation.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan.
Safety and Security
The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan and states clearly that the security situation remains critical. No province in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Insurgent elements including the Haqqani Network, Taliban and Taj Mir Jawad networks remain violently opposed to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Additionally, criminal organizations such as weapons and narco-traffickers undermine peace and stability. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan, and often, to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence to achieve their aims. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults, or kidnappings. Violence has spiked during the first six months of 2013, and despite numerous interdiction operations by Afghan and coalition forces, insurgents have conducted thirteen high profile attacks in Kabul City. These attacks have consisted of complex assaults, IED detonations and suicide bombings. Insurgents continue to target various U.S. and Afghan government facilities in Kabul City, including the June 25, 2013 attack against a U.S. government facility adjacent to the Afghan Presidential Palace and the U.S. Embassy.
There is an elevated risk of kidnapping and assassinations targeting U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) employees throughout the country. In May 2012, insurgents with vehicle-borne explosives and suicide vests targeted Green Village, a compound on Jalalabad Road in Kabul that houses primarily international security contractors. In May 2013, insurgents conducted a complex attack against the office of International Organization of Migration (IOM) headquarters. Several insurgents occupied an adjacent building, and from an elevated position, fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on nearby buildings. This attack resulted in several deaths and wounded a number of security personnel, IOM staff, and Afghan civilians.
Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political and social tensions. U.S. citizens should avoid rallies and demonstrations; even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. The country faces a difficult period in the near term and U.S. citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. There is also a real danger from the presence of millions of unexploded land mines and other ordnance. Terrorists continue to use roadside or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Private U.S. citizens should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns.
The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes, and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Similarly, U.S. citizens involved in business disputes -- a common legal problem in Afghanistan -- have reported that adversaries in the disputes have threatened detention, arrest, imprisonment, and at times, have successfully carried out the threats. U.S. citizens who find themselves in such situations should not assume that either local law enforcement or the U.S. Embassy will be able to assist them in resolving these disputes.
Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated. The few roads that exist are mostly in poor condition. Cell phone signals are irregular and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or larger cities exist. U.S. citizens traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may be completely unable to communicate their difficulties to the outside world.
U.S. citizens should be aware that in March 2013, an Afghan government-controlled security force, the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), assumed authority over the provision of most commercial security services in Afghanistan from private security companies. In August 2010, President Karzai issued Presidential Decree 62 ordering the disbandment of private security companies in Afghanistan. As a result, all security guard services being performed by private security companies, with the exception of diplomatic missions, have been transferred to the APPF. Only embassies and other accredited diplomatic missions are permitted to continue using private security companies after March 2013.
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Taking some time before travel to consider your personal security – Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Afghanistan, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only and may not be accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways.
An estimated 5-7 million land mines and large quantities of unexploded ordnance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and crime, particularly kidnappings, are also prevalent on highways outside Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced.
Roadside assistance is non-existent. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. With congested roads and abundant pedestrian traffic, vehicle accidents are a serious concern and can escalate into violent confrontations. We strongly urge all drivers to drive defensively and pay close attention to their surroundings.