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Friday, July 19, 2024

ISIS Khorasan continues to expand dominance in Afghanistan

While Islamic State (ISIS) and its regional affiliated are being defeated globally, according to counterterrorism watch dogs, while it still maintains strong presence in the world, the US Central Command said, ISIS has been trying to intensify its jihadist activities in Syria, Iraq, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, the Philippines, Yemen, and Somalia as it succeeded in continuing attacks in 2022. It is also learnt from various intelligence sources that Islamic State is making frantic bids in infiltrating Myanmar-based Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) as well as other jihadist outfits in Bharat.

Counterterrorism researchers said, ISIS Khorasan, which is known as ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate jihadist outfit that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan deserves special attention in terms of its highly complex attacks that killed hundreds of people in Afghanistan in 2022. 

According to a report released by the US State Department, in 2020, 1,722 jihadist incidents that killed 8,522 people was predominantly perpetrated by the Taliban, while ISIS-K was the perpetrator of 22 attacks in the same year, which is one percent of total jihadist attacks.

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Islamic State Khorasan emerged as a dominant jihadist organization in the country. Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has played an important role behind the expansion of dominance and activities of ISIS-K in Afghanistan.

It may be mentioned here that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has grappled with many political, economic and social issues following its seizure of power in 2021, which was a result of US President Joe Biden’s disastrous abrupt retreat from the country. The Taliban regime has failed to present a promising life for Afghans as it is not allowed to use its frozen assets resulting in a socio-economic catastrophe. Women are facing acute oppression while the Taliban regime’s recent decree banning university education for girls has received severe criticism from the world. Furthermore, the Taliban government fails to act as a functional government that addresses the country’s never-ending issues.

Meanwhile, due to heavily polarized societies, ethnic resistance groups in northern states of Afghanistan are continuing to target Taliban forces. Under all these circumstances, it is unsurprising to list terrorism and security threats as the country’s other top issues.

In Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has been enjoying opportunity of continuing its activities, under direct patronization of the Taliban leadership. Al Qaeda’s affiliate Haqqani Network has a government-level representation, with its leader acting as the Minister of Interior. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), another al-Qaeda-affiliated group, is well-settled in Afghanistan and places its ranks in the Taliban government, while it has been continuing plotting jihadist activities within the South Asian region.

In 2022, Pakistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and ISIS-K were amongst the active jihadist outfits also active in Afghanistan during the last year. Tehreek-e-Taliban intensified jihadist attacks in Pakistan’s Quetta and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions but limitedly operated in Afghanistan.

TTP’s leadership cadre was targeted in several attacks that, for instance, happened on August 7, 2022 and killed three group senior commanders and on October 10, 2022 that seriously injured another TTP commander in the country. However, ISIS-K seemed to be the most active and capable group that claimed responsibility for most of its attacks in 2022, indicating its efforts to take credit and increase its popularity.

Before Taliban takeover in August 2021, ISIS-K was having limited operation in Kabul and its jihadist activities were confined to Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. However, the group, with its organizational structure that includes global jihadists, was able to exert its influence in almost all 34 provinces and continued to carry out attacks in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan in 2022.

ISIS-K targeted a variety of groups in its 2022 attacks. First, ISIS-K aimed to attack the members of the Haqqani Network group and Taliban forces in a significant number of attacks in 2022. ISIS-K sees the Taliban as a renegade organization because the Taliban collaborated with western countries and joined peace talks with the United States.

According to counterterrorism researchers, ISIS-K believes the Taliban is an irreconcilable threat that must be militarily targeted. The sectarian difference between ISIS-K and the Taliban is another reason for hostility.

It may be mentioned here that ISIS-K subscribes to the jihadist Salafism and sees Afghan Taliban’s Hanafi sectarian ideology as deficient. It also opposes Taliban’s nationalism and considers them as unfit to rule Afghanistan.

In 2022, ISIS-K conducted car bombings and suicide bombings and planted mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) when targeting the Taliban forces. Also, this jihadist outfit targeted high-level members of the Taliban regime. For instance, the Taliban’s intelligence chief was killed in an ISIS-K attack on January 11, 2022. ISIS-K has also beheaded one individual on March 18, 2022 by accusing him as a spy for the Haqqani Network.

ISIS-K attacks targeted Hazaras in Afghanistan, a Shia community living primarily in the Hazarajat region and scattered throughout the country. They are the biggest target of ISIS-K due to their religious identity. It may be mentioned here that, Islamic State considers Shias to be apostates that need to be punished. They are also easy targets for ISIS-K, as the Taliban is reluctant to protect Hazaras. ISIS-K mainly targeted Shia gatherings in religious schools, funerals, bus terminals, and mosques in 2022, regardless of brutally killing adults or children.

In my opinion, considering the expansion of jihadist capacities of ISIS-K, it is posing growing danger and security threats to the entire region and due to expanding dominance of this jihadist outfit, they will witness bloody attacks in Afghanistan and beyond.

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, counterterrorism specialist and editor of Weekly Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib

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