Afghanistan – Security Situation in Herat Province – October, 2017

Herat, located in the west of Afghanistan, is one of the largest provinces. It shares borders with the provinces of Badghis and Turkmenistan in the north. The province of Farah is to the south, while Ghor is to the east and the Islamic republic of Iran to the west. Herat has 16 districts: Adraskan, Chiste Sharif, Farsi, Ghoryan, Gulran, Guzara, Herat, Injil, Karukh, Kohsan, Kushk, Kushke Kohna, Obe, Pashtun Zarghun, Shindand, Zinda Jan. The provincial capital is Herat City, estimated to house 477,452 inhabitants; the population in the province is an estimated 1,890,202.

The most unstable district is Shindand, 130 kilometres from Herat City, with an area of 6,762 square kilometres and a population of about 800,000. Shindand is Afghanistan’s largest district, but it is allotted funds only equal to other districts. In June 2015, President Ghani ordered the division of the district into several districts without specifying how many. According to AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini, Shindand still accounts for one-third of all security incidents in Herat Province, although the security situation in recent years has deteriorated in other areas of the province. Avast district largely populated by Pashtuns, it houses a strategically important military airbase built by the Soviets and reactivated by the US, mainly with Iran in mind. Today, the airbase is mainly used as a training facility for Afghan pilots. Shindand is described as a ‘historic opium growing district’. The district also has two important roads: the ring road connecting Herat with Kandahar, from which a secondary road leads towards Farah.

From 1 September 2015 to 31 May 2016, Herat Province counted 496 security incidents. The following table provides an overview of the nature of the security incidents:

Violence targeting individuals  95
Armed confrontations and airstrikes  197
Explosions  41
Security enforcement  144
Non-conflict related incidents  15
Other incidents  4
Total security incidents  496

Security incidents by province:

Shindand 154
Herat 68
Guzara 38
Gulran 25
Ghoryan 23
Obe 23
Adraskan 22
Kushk 19
Pashtun Zarghun 19
Injil 18
Kushk-e Kuhna 18
Chist-e Sharif 16
Koshan 16
Karukh 15
Zinda Jan 12
Farsi 9
Khak-e Safed 1

Herat City shelters many internally displaced from neighbouring districts and neighbouring provinces. UNCHR mentioned in September and October 2015 that IDPs coming to Herat were mainly from districts of Badghis, Kunduz, Ghor and Faryab provinces.[1]

Several high-profile security incidents during the reporting period led to a further deterioration of public confidence in the Government’s security arrangements. The attack on a Shia mosque in Herat on 1 August killed over 90 people and drew widespread condemnation from both the Afghan public and the international community.[2]

At least 28 women and children were killed and an additional 16 injured in air strikes in the beginning of September 2017 in Afghanistan, the United Nations political mission in the country said in initial findings of its probe into the deaths. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) urged authorities to ensure independent, impartial and prompt investigations of both incidents, and to compensate the victims. The incidents took place in Herat, a western province bordering Iran and Turkmenistan, and in Logar, which is south of Kabul on the eastern side of the country.[3]

UN data shows the number of overall returns to Afghanistan increased in 2016 by 85% compared to 2015. The three most common destinations for returnees from Western countries, who sought support from the International Organization for Migration, were Herat, Kabul and Balkh province (Mazar-eSharif). Similar to Mazar-e Sharif, Herat recorded lower numbers of civilian casualties than other cities across Afghanistan70, with the exception of an attack on a mosque in Herat city, which took place in June 2017 and killed at least 10 people were killed 71. The UN Special Rapporteur noted the growing trend of urban displacement and highlighted the ‘…positive progress … under way in Herat and Mazar-eSharif, where projects are securing landownership or occupation rights, providing homes, essential services and livelihoods.’[4]

Herat is one of Afghanistan’s major trading hubs and has strong historical trade ties with Iran and Turkmenistan. As the national economy stagnates, the volume of trade is expected to decrease significantly, negatively impacting employment and services in Herat. The small- and medium-sized enterprise industry is well developed in Herat, particularly in handicrafts, rugs and silk. The province has industry including shoe factories, mobile-phone factories and refrigerator factories – staffed entirely by men. Exports of these goods and agricultural products from the province have fluctuated significantly in recent years. Although no other Afghan city attracted as much private investment since 2001 as Herat did, initial optimism waned as locally manufactured products were undercut by products from Iran.

Herat’s economy is also affected by insecurity and political uncertainty, according to analyst Jolyon Leslie. Private investment in the city has dropped markedly, which is most obvious in the construction sector where many sites remain unfinished. According to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor: Baseline Report of April 2016, ‘[t]he general sentiment is that there is discrimination and nepotism in accessing paid employment in Herat. Herat is attribute the rising level of criminality, particularly petty theft, kidnapping, and more serious crimes, to the rising level of unemployment.

In a 2014 study by Samuel Hall Consultancy on migration profiles in the five major cities of Afghanistan, Herat was ranked second, after Jalalabad, in terms of absorbing the largest share of returnees (33 %). Regarding seven protracted IDP settlements in Herat city in 2016, UNHCR came to similar conclusions as to the situation in Kabul. Most IDP families were dependant on a single income from daily wage labour (construction, labouring, loading and unloading goods in marketplaces) or other insecure and seasonal forms of employment. An assessment of the IDPs in Herat in 2015 came to a similar conclusion: ‘Casual labour is currently the primary, if not only source of income, together with other sources of income such as begging or spinning wool. Analyst Jolyon Leslie found that in 2015 the proportion of women in paid labour in Herat was higher than in any other urban community in Afghanistan. The high number of women and children from vulnerable families engaged in informal employment in Herat points to how families struggle to survive, according to Leslie. Women have access to jobs in tailoring, agricultural cooperatives, embroidery and beauty parlors. There are reports of harassment of women at work, particularly in Herat City. Regarding seven protracted IDP settlements within Herat municipal boundaries, UNHCR found that ‘[t]he overwhelming majority of IDPs are food insecure’, and some severely so.

The overall literacy rate for Herat City was 62.8 % (70.1 % for males and 55.4 % for females) and Herat City also scored the highest net primary attendance rate (78 %), net secondary attendance rate (42 %), net high school attendance rate (28.8 %), and net attendance rate for higher education (12.9 %). According to analyst Leslie in 2015, the growth of private education in Herat has been significant with reportedly 30,000 students enrolled in roughly 70 private schools, who can charge up to $1,500 in tuition fees per year. According to Leslie, these private schools serve the wealthy in the first place and attract increasing numbers of students because of poor standards of tuition in public schools. Skilled teachers are attracted by higher salaries and better working conditions. In 2015, 30,000 students, of which 5,000 were female, attended a madrassa in Herat. Herat has one public university and seven private universities. The public university has been accused of corruption and political interference related to the kankur exam (university entry exam).

Mazar-e Sharif and Herat have a network of health facilities, clinics, hospitals and mobile clinics. The network is still being developed. In January 2017 the Ministry of Health started construction works of 14 new health projects in Herat, including an artificial limbs workshop, assistive devices for Herat’s regional hospital, a Herat regional blood bank, and a maternity hospital. In a study among urban poor, Samuel Hall found in 2014 that Herat benefitted from easier access to health facilities than other cities. With regards to mental health treatment, the head of Herat’s Public Health Department, quoted by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in February 2017, said that ‘psychotherapy and medication were available at all the province’s health centres’. According to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor: Baseline Report of April 2016 ‘[a]ccess to health services is relatively good, particularly in Herat City […] There are no services for victims of sexual assault or STD diagnosis and treatment in public health centers. Some private hospitals offer these services’.

The province of Herat is ethnically heterogeneous and Dari-speaking. Publicly available information on the number, ethnicity and gender composition of police in Herat city could not be found. The city is divided into 16 administrative units. The city’s urban districts each have a designated police station. There is a far greater police presence in Herat City than in rural areas. Police in the city districts are described as being better trained and having a better reputation than police in rural areas. However, Pajhwok Afghan News reported in February 2017 that local residents complained of the weakness of security and justice institutions in Herat city in light of increases in assassinations in the solar year between March 2016 and March 2017. Security in and around Herat City is reportedly deteriorating. Insecurity inside Herat city has become increasingly criminal in nature, with incidents of kidnappings, killings, and robbery reported. USIP also reported on increases in anti-government activity and killings of security forces, as well as the ‘rearming of militias in and around the city’. Assassinations and murders have been a growing problem, particularly of government officials. The representative of a civil-society organisation who provided input for this report stated that one of the most pressing issues in Herat City is the fear of being kidnapped, or having one’s children kidnapped for ransom. The same source said that there had been an upward trend in assassinations in the past year of civil society people, religious leaders, and politicians. Pahjwok news reported in February 2017 that during the solar year since March 2016, 174 murders occurred in Herat province, including 34 for ‘political reasons’.[5]

[1] European Union: European Asylum Support Office (EASO), EASO Country of Origin Information Report Afghanistan: Key socio-economic indicators, state protection, and mobility in Kabul City, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat City, August 2017, available at:

[accessed 20 October 2017]

[2] UN Secretary-General (UNSG), The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security , 15 September 2017, A/72/392–S/2017/783, available at:

[accessed 20 October 2017]

[3] UN News Service, Afghanistan: UN mission confirms at least 44 civilians killed, injured in latest airstrikes, 1 September 2017, available at:

[accessed 20 October 2017]

[4] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Afghanistan: Security and humanitarian situation, August 2017, v 4.0, available at:

[accessed 20 October 2017

[5] European Union: European Asylum Support Office (EASO), EASO Country of Origin Information Report Afghanistan: Key socio-economic indicators, state protection, and mobility in Kabul City, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat City, August 2017, available at:

[accessed 20 October 2017]