Meet ISIS-K, Taliban Enemy Number One | International

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The report presented in July with information on spying by United Nations member states to the Security Council, its main decision-making body, has already warned of the threat in Kabul from the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, a terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attacks committed in the Thursday. “The group has reinforced its positions in and around Kabul, where it carries out most of its attacks, directed at minorities, activists, public officials and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel.” The report, signed by Norwegian UN representative Trine Heimerback, reported the existence of “sleeping cells” in the Afghan capital. According to the data gathered, the terrorist group has between 500 and 1,500 fighters and, despite having suffered severe blows at its top and ranks on the border with Pakistan, it is still in the process of expansion, rivaling the Taliban for its opposition to the agreements made in 2020 between the militia and the United States.

O modus operandi of the attacks in Kabul on Thursday, two successive indiscriminate attacks against civilians, undoubtedly points to what ISIS, the Syrian-Iraqi group that proclaimed the caliphate in 2014, calls its “Khorasan province”. This last term traditionally refers to a region that would comprise northeastern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other areas of Central Asia. That’s why the terrorist group —which has operated in Afghanistan since approximately 2015, although more effectively in recent years, targeting the Shiite population in particular— is known by the acronyms ISIS-K. Islamic in the region).

Contrary to what Al Qaeda, the most resistant network to the expansion of its brand, has done, ISIS, since the victory over Mosul and Raqa seven years ago, has tried to take advantage of the action of other violent groups beyond Mesopotamia to extend its tentacles. And with the fall of the caliphate, jihadist provinces like Afghan gained importance. Financial resources were earmarked, albeit not in a significant way, but mostly armed jihad veterans were sent to grow from northeastern Afghanistan. Indeed, in the leadership of ISIS-K, formed largely by Afghans, Pakistanis, Tajiks and Uzbeks, would currently be Shahab al Muhajir, known as Sanaullah, a jihadist who is speculated only that he is an Arab coming from abroad, possibly from Syria or Iraq — in fact, the word “muhajir” is often translated as immigrant and foreigner.

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According to the report presented to the Security Council, Al Muhajir, before coming to the command of ISIS-K, “acted as chief planner for major attacks in Kabul and other urban areas.” Like other members of the group, Al Muhajir has experience in the Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban and considered a terrorist by Washington. The leader of the Afghan wing of the Islamic State rose in the organization after the heavy blow to its summit in June 2020 in an Afghan special forces operation.

But Al Muhajir’s group was not fought by them alone. The Taliban, especially since the agreement signed in February 2020 with the US — in which they pledged not to use Afghan territory to organize and commit terrorist attacks — have faced ISIS-K. So much so that, a month after the pact, US Central Command General Frank McKenzie acknowledged at a press conference that the Taliban were “crushing” ISIS-K in Nangarhar province, in the east of the country, on the border with Pakistan, and in a very “effective” way. McKenzie even admitted to some “limited” support from US forces in this offensive.

Just in Nangarhar, but also in Kunar province, ISIS’s Afghan arm has suffered a setback with advances in its presence in Nuristan, Badghis, Sari Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan and even Kunduz. Taliban takeovers and control of territory may hinder ISIS-K operations, but it may also feed its ranks with radical Taliban defectors. According to the West Point Center for Combating Terrorism, the organization has had its ranks swelled by armed groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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