Thursday, February 20, 2014

Afghanistan: US Department of State Urges US Citizens Against Travel Effective February 20

The Department of State warns US citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all US citizens in Afghanistan remains critical. 
No province in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence and banditry, and the strong possibility exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against US and other foreign nationals at any time.  
Remnants of the former Taliban regime and members of other terrorist organizations hostile to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and foreign nationals remain active in every province of the country.  Furthermore, travel to all areas of Afghanistan remains unsafe due to ongoing military combat operations, landmines, banditry, armed rivalry between political and tribal groups, and the possibility of insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices.  The threat situation in Afghanistan is still considered critical and is expected to remain so through the presidential and provincial elections and the political and military transition in 2014.
There is an ongoing and serious risk throughout the country of injury and death to US citizens, including those with protective security details or with Afghan and coalition security forces nearby.  
In April 2013, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in Zabul province, killing a US diplomat, another US civilian, and three US soldiers.  
In June 2013, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives-laden vehicles in front of Afghanistan's Supreme Court building in a heavily fortified area of Kabul, killing 17 people. 
Two weeks later, a group of Taliban fighters wearing US military uniforms evaded two security check points to enter a heavily-restricted area in Kabul to assault a US government facility, killing several guards.  
In September 2013, suicide bombers conducted a sophisticated, multiple-explosives and small-arms assault against the US Consulate in Herat, killing a number of guards. Insurgents also are increasingly targeting US and foreign security convoys traveling in Kabul. 
In early February 2014, a lone VBIED detonated in close proximity to a US security convoy, killing three civilian contractors. 
Despite numerous security operations and checkpoints by Afghan and coalition forces in and around the city, Kabul remains at high risk for militant attacks, including VBIEDs, direct and indirect fire, and suicide bombings.  Buildings or compounds that lack robust security measures in comparison to neighboring facilities may be viewed as targets of opportunity by insurgents.  In May 2013, insurgents conducted a complex attack against the International Organization of Migration headquarters.  During this attack, insurgents occupied an adjacent building and, from an elevated position, fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on nearby buildings, killing five people and wounding a number of security personnel, IOM staff and Afghan civilians.
Proximity to or presence in areas and facilities under coalition force or US government control is no guarantee of safety and should not lull US citizens residing in or visiting Kabul into a false sense of security.  
In January 2014, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a restaurant frequented by foreign nationals in what was considered a safer neighborhood of Kabul.  The attack resulted in 21 deaths, which included three US citizens.  The restaurant was situated near many foreign missions, the US Embassy and the International Security Assistance Force’s headquarters. 
Riots and incidents of civil disturbance can occur in Afghanistan, often without warning.  US citizens should avoid all rallies and demonstrations.  Protests intended as peaceful can become confrontational and escalate into violence at any point. The size of these demonstrations has ranged from as small as 50 to as large as 2,500 people.  The issues that typically prompt demonstrations include grievances against the government and coalition forces, as well as spontaneous, public expressions of social, political, and ethnic tensions. 
Ambushes, kidnappings, robberies, and violent crime can add to the insecurity in many areas of the country. US citizens representing various foreign interests in property or contract disputes -- a common problem for US and foreign companies doing business in Afghanistan -- have reported that local counterparties to the disputes have threatened their lives or held them or their employees captive under extrajudicial conditions while awaiting payouts or intervention by local authorities.  US citizens who find themselves in such situations should not assume that local law enforcement or the US Embassy will assist them in resolving such disputes or intervene on their behalf with Afghan officials.
The Department of State considers the threat to US government personnel in Afghanistan sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions.  All locations outside the US Embassy and other US government facilities are considered off limits to Embassy personnel unless there is a compelling government interest in permitting such travel that outweighs the risk.  In addition, the internal security policies of the US Embassy may be changed or adjusted at any time and without advance notice.  Periodically, the Embassy will restrict or prohibit movements by its personnel, often on short notice and for reasons such as terrorist attacks, security threats, or demonstrations.  Potential target areas include key national or international government establishments, international organizations, and locations frequented by the expatriate community, like restaurants, hotels, and guesthouses. 
The US Embassy's ability to provide emergency consular services to US citizens in Afghanistan is limited, particularly for those persons outside of Kabul.  US citizens who choose to visit or remain in Afghanistan despite this Travel Warning are encouraged to monitor the Embassy’s website and to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to obtain the most current information on travel and security within Afghanistan.  Enrollment in STEP makes it easier for the Embassy to contact US citizens in case of emergency.  US citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the US Embassy.
US government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no safe, commercial alternatives exist. Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the US government for travel costs. 
The lack of a valid US passport and Afghan visa may hinder a US citizen’s ability to depart the country and may slow the US Embassy's ability to assist.  US citizens in Afghanistan should ensure that they have proper and current documentation at all times. Evacuation options from Afghanistan are extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and other security concerns.  The US government typically evacuates US citizens to a safe haven, and travelers are responsible for making their own onward travel plans.  US citizens should not expect to be evacuated to the United States and should always maintain medevac insurance while living or traveling abroad in case they need emergency medical evacuation back to the United States, which can be a significant expense.  For more information, see "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis."
The US Embassy in Kabul is located at Great Massoud Road (also known as Bibi Mahru or Airport Road) between Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) and the Ministry of Public Health.  The Consular Section of the US Embassy can be reached at 301-490-1042, ext. 8499, from the United States or +93(0) 700-108-499 from abroad during business hours, Sunday through Thursday, from 0800 until 1600 hours Kabul time.  For after-hours, truly exigent emergencies involving US citizens, please contact the Embassy Duty Officer at +93-(0)700-108-001.  Any routine consular correspondence relating to services for US citizens may be sent to KabulACS@state.gov.
For the latest security information, US citizens living or traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Consular Affairs’ website where the current Worldwide CautionTravel Alerts and Travel Warnings, andCountry Specific Information for Afghanistan can be found.  Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers in other countries, by calling a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available during 0800 hours and 2000 hours EST, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).
The US Embassy also encourages US citizens to review the Traveler's Checklist, which includes valuable security information for those living or traveling abroad.  Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.