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New Report Profiles Weapons Used in High-Profile Attacks Claimed by Taliban, ISIS Khorasan

This publication marks the first time that detailed photographs of the weapons used in these urban attacks have been shared publicly.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, concerns have grown over the changing terrorist landscape in the country and the threat posed by groups such as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Understanding how terrorist and insurgent groups continue to gain access to weapons and ammunition is critical to countering these threats moving forward.

This is Conflict Armament Research’s second Frontline Perspective drawing from its Afghanistan data set. It focuses on weapons used in two high-profile attacks in Kabul:

  • the May 2019 Taliban-claimed attack on Counterpart International, a contractor of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),
  • and the November 2020 ISKP-claimed attack on Kabul University.

Given that such incidents have been all too common in Afghanistan, this sample is narrow, but it reveals distinct commonalities among the weapons chosen for such high-profile attacks. This publication also marks the first time that detailed photographs of the weapons used in these urban attacks have been shared publicly.

CAR has produced an interactive guide to these weapons and their components, which can be accessed here: Illicit Weapons in Afghanistan – Issue 02.

CAR’s analysis identified multiple, subtle similarities between the weapons used by different groups across the two attacks:

  • First, the combatants appear to have selected specific rifle models for each attack, ensuring the weapons would be relatively easy to transport and conceal in an urban environment.
  • Second, the age of the selected weapons is significant for investigators. The rifles deployed in the ISKP attack on Kabul University for example were nearly 70 years old. Due to their age, these weapons are nearly impossible to trace.
  • Third, while it is not uncommon to find well-maintained weapons in illicit circulation, these weapons exhibit a higher degree of maintenance that many of those observed in CAR’s data set from Afghanistan.
  • Fourth, all items were of Soviet-era design and manufacture, despite the prevalence in Afghanistan of other options. This indicates that groups carrying out high-profile attacks in Afghanistan may opt for weaponry that is both familiar and reliable.
  • Finally, and perhaps most notably, the weapons still featured nearly all their original working parts. Much of the decades-old weaponry that CAR documented in Afghanistan, and in other countries, see worn or faulty components swapped with replacement parts from other weapons. In contrast, the weapons used in the Kabul attacks were not subject to such widespread replacements, and they appear to have been well kept for decades, raising questions as to their provenance and storage.

These similarities distinguish the six weapons used in the two high-profile attacks in Kabul from those in CAR’s larger Afghanistan data set. Between February 2019 and July 2021, CAR investigators documented over 1,600 small arms and light weapons, more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition, and dozens of related items, such as night vision equipment, riflescopes, and components for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) seized by Afghan security forces from the Taliban and other armed groups.

Read the CAR report

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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