- Jose Carlos Cueto
- BBC News World
The bomb attacks outside Kabul airport on Thursday (26/08) have fueled the fears of many that Afghanistan will once again become a breeding ground for extremism.
Western powers rushed to drive their citizens out of the country in the face of the threat of an imminent attack, which was eventually carried out and killed at least 90 people.
An arm of the extremist group calling itself Islamic State, called Islamic State Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack — and the United States responded with drone strikes that would have killed at least three Islamic State members, including the person responsible for planning the attack.
Since the Taliban came to power, the international community has scrutinized both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, two groups weakened but looking to strengthen themselves after the collapse of the Afghan government and the withdrawal of Western troops from the country.
The Taleban denies the country could become a sanctuary for terrorists, but some experts are dubious.
“I’m not sure the value of those words because we’ve heard the same statements in the 1990s,” Bruce Hoffman, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, tells BBC News Mundo, Spanish-language news service. of New York, United States.
Between 1996 and 2001, under Taliban rule, al Qaeda thrived in Afghanistan and orchestrated attacks around the world. Now, the concern is that the group will regain power in the shadow of the Taleban government, its allies.
The Islamic State, for its part, wants to strengthen itself again after its defeat in Syria and Iraq and the fall of its self-proclaimed caliphate. This organization is the enemy of both the West and the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
But after all, how extensive is the presence of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Afghanistan today? And how is their relationship with the Taliban?
Islamic State Khorasan
The Islamic State Khorasan is affiliated with the original group that controlled large areas in Syria and Iraq.
This faction emerged in 2015 in eastern Afghanistan, at the height of the organization — and is a sworn enemy of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“They hate each other, they are competitors, although they have similar ideologies. They attacked each other for months. This group considers the Taliban to be traitors for negotiating with the Americans”, explains Michele Groppi, researcher on world order at King’s University to BBC News World College London, UK.
In a statement claiming responsibility for the attack on Thursday, they accused the Taliban of “collaborating” with US forces to remove “spies” from the country.
According to Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent, the Islamic State Khorasan is the most extreme and violent of all the militant jihadist groups operating in Afghanistan.
The United Nations (UN) notes that, despite the financial and territorial losses, the Islamic State remains a threat to the country and the region.
“He is trying to maintain his relevance, rebuild his hierarchies, recruit and train followers, potentially Taliban defectors who have rejected the peace process,” says the UN report.
It is estimated that the Khorasan Islamic State has between 1,500 and 2,200 fighters spread across several cells, with a greater presence in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, in the northeast of the country.
At its peak, it had more than 3,000 fighters, but suffered significant casualties in clashes with US and Afghan security forces, as well as against the Taliban.
The group recruits both Afghan and Pakistani jihadists, particularly defecting Afghan Taliban members who do not consider their own organization “radical enough”.
Intelligence sources attributed the group to some of the worst atrocities that have taken place in Afghanistan in recent years, including attacks on girls’ schools, hospitals and even a maternity hospital, in which pregnant women and nurses were reportedly shot dead.
While the Taliban insists that its goal does not go beyond what happens in Afghanistan, the Islamic State has shown a more expansionist and tough stance against the West and the United Nations.
“The Khorasan have a very different view of how Afghanistan should work. They are even more ferocious than the Taliban,” explains Groppi.
According to a recent UN report, al Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces, mainly in the east, south and southeast of the country.
“It’s a significant presence. They’ve been in practically half the territory, even before the fall of Kabul,” says Hoffman.
“In total, al Qaeda is estimated to have between 400 and 600 fighters, but I imagine those numbers will grow after the Taliban’s victory,” adds Colin Clarke, researcher and security analyst at the Soufan Center in New York to BBC World News , In the USA.
On February 29, 2020, the United States, under Donald Trump’s management, signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which defined a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops and allies after nearly 20 years of conflict. .
In return, Washington obtained a promise that the Taleban would not allow “any of its members, or other individuals or groups, including al Qaeda, to use Afghan territory to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
The invasion of Afghanistan was part of the “war on terror” declared by former US President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Taliban Afghanistan was one of al Qaeda’s bases—and US intelligence located there and in neighboring Pakistan the main headquarters of its leader, Osama bin Laden.
The United Nations ensures that the Taleban and Al Qaeda remain aligned. In fact, they claim that the bond has deepened as a result of marriages and tribal ties.
Experts believe the Taleban and al Qaeda will maintain a posture of detachment and discretion until the former achieves its objectives of controlling the country.
The Taleban denies and reaffirms that it respects the points of the Doha agreement and has no links with the organization.
“The Taleban has promised to stop them from attacking the US and the West, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use Afghanistan to destabilize Asia or perhaps provoke nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan,” Hoffman warns.
“I worry that with the Taliban, extremists will be better positioned to orchestrate attacks through their factions in other countries, such as Syria and Yemen,” adds the expert.
On the other hand, academics warn that the Taleban-Al Qaeda consortium could be strengthened in the fight against the Islamic State, its common enemy.
Al Qaeda emerged among the networks of jihadists who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.
Your ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate. The group’s strategy is to launch high-impact attacks against the West, like the one on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001.
Islamic State, in turn, emerged among some remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, but they broke relations in 2014.
The group has also led attacks against the West and brutal sectarian attacks in the Middle East and Asia.
Unlike Al Qaeda, Islamic State is actively seeking territorial expansion and conquest.
Both organizations vie for dominance by the global jihadist movement.
What can happen in the future?
What will happen in the medium and long term is unknown. But of course the security challenge starts soon, accelerated by the attack on Kabul airport just days before Aug. 31, the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign powers from the country.
The Taleban have vowed to stay away from al-Qaeda and focus on reorganizing their country.
However, as the group regained ground in recent weeks, Afghans denounced executions of soldiers and punishment of women.
Many chose to flee the country for fear of a repeat of what happened in the 1990s, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan under a strict regime based on sharia (Islamic law).
Hoffman believes al Qaeda will not be part of the new government, but it may have power behind the scenes.
However, Groppi predicts that if “the Taleban don’t get what they want: international recognition, funds and security to govern Afghanistan, they can openly invite al Qaeda.”
On the other hand, many analysts, such as Colin Clarke, hope that the Taliban’s rise to power will trigger an influx of new recruits for both this group and Al Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan.
“Let’s not forget either that the US can use the Taleban to fight the Islamic State. In the short term, these two groups will continue to fight each other. In the long term, everything will depend on the internal dynamics and the international games”, says Groppi .
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