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ISIS-K: How strong is the Islamic State in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan?

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A bomb blast that killed at least 21 worshipers, together with an influential cleric, and injured greater than 30 others in Afghanistan’s capital throughout night prayers on Wednesday night, in response to Taliban officers and residents, has renewed deal with the risk to the Taliban posed by Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate.

Residents of the Khair Khana space of Kabul instructed The Washington Publish that the prayer chief who was killed, Amir Mohammad Kabuli, was an outspoken preacher unaffiliated with anyone faction. No group has claimed duty for Wednesday’s blast, however it got here every week after the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-Ok), a rival of the Taliban, claimed duty for a bombing that killed Rahimullah Haqqani, a outstanding Taliban-linked cleric.

It’s the most recent in a string of assaults, lots of which have been attributed to ISIS-Ok, for the reason that Taliban swept to nationwide energy in Afghanistan a yr in the past.

Right here’s what to know concerning the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan.

Blast kills 21 in Kabul mosque, including influential cleric

The Islamic State is most related to Iraq and Syria, the place the brutal extremist group held enormous swaths of territory below its self-declared “caliphate” on the group’s peak in late 2014.

Identified for its transnational recruitment and urge for food for violence, ISIS noticed its energy decline sharply after a U.S.-coalition drove it from the final of its territory in 2019. However the militant group and offshoots proceed to stage assaults and gasoline violence and instability within the Center East, South Asia and Africa.

ISIS-Ok started working in Afghanistan in 2015. It was began by Pakistani nationwide Hafiz Saeed Khan, who had pledged allegiance to then-Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. Initially consisting largely of Pakistani militants and based mostly largely within the japanese Afghan province of Nangahar, it drew some recruits from the Taliban and different extremist teams.

The Islamic State follows a model of Salafism, an ultraconservative motion in Sunni Islam. In Afghanistan, the Hazaras, a Shiite minority group, have been frequent targets of ISIS-Ok assaults. So have Sufis, who apply a type of Islamic mysticism or asceticism. Kabuli, the cleric killed in Wednesday’s bombing, was reportedly a Sufi leader.

ISIS-Ok is led by Sanaullah Ghafari, often known as Shahab al-Muhajir, who’s reported to be in japanese Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. Its assaults declined after U.S.-led counterterrorism operations within the group’s stronghold in japanese Afghanistan between 2018 and 2020. Nonetheless, ISIS-Ok continued to launch assaults on civilian targets reminiscent of schools and weddings.

An Islamic State-claimed assault on Kabul’s worldwide airport through the U.S. withdrawal final yr killed 13 U.S. troops and an estimated 170 Afghans.

What is ISIS-K? Here’s what the Taliban takeover means for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate.

What’s the group’s relationship to the Taliban?

The Taliban has a historical past of shut ties with al-Qaeda, a rival to the Islamic State. Although Taliban leaders pledged in a 2020 settlement with the USA to forestall Afghanistan from changing into a haven for terrorist teams, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul final month seemed to indicate ongoing ties between the teams.

In distinction, the Taliban has clashed with ISIS-Ok nearly for the reason that Islamic State offshoot first cropped up in Afghanistan. The Taliban largely adheres to the Deobandi movement inside the Hanafi college of Sunni Islam, which contributes to non secular and political variations between the teams.

Earlier than the Taliban takeover, the United Nations estimated that ISIS-K had some 1,500 to 2,200 fighters in Konar and Nangahar provinces, together with smaller cells in different components of the nation. Islamic State leaders, who assume the Taliban is just not sufficiently excessive, denounced its victory final yr.

How has Taliban rule affected ISIS-Ok?

Within the months after the Taliban seized nationwide management, ISIS-Ok expanded its attain to just about all of Afghanistan’s provinces, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in November. It additionally stepped up the tempo of its assaults, finishing up suicide bombings, ambushes and assassinations. The group has claimed 224 assaults in Afghanistan since August 2021, 30 of which had been thought of important, in response to SITE Intelligence Group, a nonprofit that displays extremist teams. Most focused Taliban gatherings.

Late final yr, the core Islamic State group gave $500,000 in new funding to ISIS-Ok, in response to the U.N. monitoring staff. A Taliban intelligence official acknowledged in the fall that his group’s battle to overthrow the U.S.-backed Afghan authorities allowed many Islamic State prisoners to flee.

ISIS-Ok assaults declined over the winter — perhaps due to winter climate, the United Nations stated, or maybe on account of a Taliban counterterrorism marketing campaign, aided by Pakistani intelligence.

Taliban sends hundreds of fighters to eastern Afghanistan to wage war against Islamic State

The Taliban’s method to counterinsurgency has been brutal: Within the fall, native commanders in Jalalabad killed accused Islamic State collaborators and hung their our bodies at busy intersections, The Post reported. Lots of of suspected ISIS-Ok members disappeared or turned up lifeless.

Safety has improved for many Afghans for the reason that Taliban took energy — however latest violence reveals the Islamic State stays lively. ISIS-Ok launched a fresh series of attacks within the spring, claiming 80 assaults between April and the tip of June, largely focusing on Hazara and Sufi minorities, in response to the latest report from the Protection Division’s lead inspector normal for U.S. counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, launched Tuesday. Its most deadly assault, the bombing of a Hazara mosque in Mazar-e Sharif in April, killed at the very least 31 civilians and wounded greater than 60.

The group additionally claimed cross-border assaults in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The violence may “produce some cracks within the armor” of the Taliban authorities, stated Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program on the Wilson Heart.

“ISIS-Ok’s technique is twofold: Goal Taliban forces on to undermine their maintain on energy, and goal civilians to weaken Taliban legitimacy by shattering their core narrative that their takeover restored peace and stability,” he stated in an electronic mail.

The indiscriminate smaller assaults in city areas, in lieu of extra refined operations, may point out that ISIS-Ok is brief on “expert terrorists,” stated Antonio Giustozzi, a safety skilled at King’s Faculty London.

“This strategic shift towards mass-casualty assaults and anti-Taliban media campaigns comes much more from a spot of concern than confidence,” Rita Katz, SITE Intelligence Group’s director, wrote in an electronic mail.

Specialists and intelligence officers warned final summer season {that a} Taliban victory over the U.S.-backed Afghan authorities may drive Islamist militants from world wide to Afghanistan. ISIS-Ok rolled out a multilingual media operation over the previous yr to draw recruits, in response to Katz. For probably the most half, although, Taliban rule hasn’t led but to the growth in ISIS recruitment that some analysts predicted.

Whereas the dire economic crisis in Afghanistan over the previous yr has created fertile floor for radicalization, consultants stated, Islamic State leaders might be strict about vetting their fighters’ ideological commitments.

Some lower-level Taliban commanders, primarily from Tajik and Uzbek communities within the north, have reportedly defected to ISIS-Ok, in response to the United Nations. However the Taliban’s hard-line approach to governance hasn’t incentivized its ultraconservative leaders to leap ship, Kugelman stated.

The Taliban final month declared ISIS-Ok a corrupt “sect” and banned Afghans from having contact with the group. Taliban forces have garnered praise from some Kabul residents for battling ISIS-Ok fighters who attacked predominantly Shiite neighborhoods.

In Salafi strongholds, although, the Taliban’s heavy-handed counterterrorism technique may backfire, consultants warned.

“They don’t have a lot capability to make use of air energy, the primary tactic to focus on ISIS-Ok earlier than the Taliban took over,” Kugelman stated. “The Taliban have used floor offensives as a substitute, however in so doing they’ve used scorched-earth ways which have alienated native communities greater than degraded the ISIS-Ok risk.”

Susannah George and Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.



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