What is ISIS-K, the new threat looming over Afghanistan?

The Taliban, who have regained power in Afghanistan, are the object of permanent hatred by the jihadist Islamic State (ISIS), a group that the United States sees as a threat to the thousands of Afghans desperate to flee Kabul. This Thursday two explosions caused at least 15 deaths and dozens of injured at the gates of the Afghan capital airport. At the moment the authorship or characteristics of the double attack are unknown, although US suspicions point to the regional branch of ISIS, the Islamic State-Khorasan (Isis-K) group. The American President, Joe biden, had anticipated days ago a “acute and increasing risk” of attack in the zone.

What is the Islamic State-Khorasan?

Months after ISIS declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, former Pakistani Taliban pledged allegiance to it and joined other militants in Afghanistan. to form a regional chapter. The central ISIS leadership formally recognized the group a year after it settled in northeast Afghanistan, in the Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces. The group also established cells in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kabul, according to UN monitors.

At its peak, in 2016, it is estimated that it had between 2,500 and 8,500 combatants, But continued counterterrorism operations by the Afghan Army with air support and US special forces lowered this figure at the end of 2019 to between 2,000 and 4,000. The latest estimates of their strength range from thousands of active fighters up to 500, according to a UN Security Council report released in July.

“Khorasan” is a historical name for the region that includes parts of what is now Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia., which gives the faction the name ISIS-K. Believe, In short, that the Taliban are not devoted enough to Islam and for that reason they attack them.

What kinds of attacks do they carry out?

ISIS-K claimed responsibility for some of the wildest attacks in recent years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He massacred civilians in both countries in mosques, shrines, squares and hospitals.

The extremist Sunni group has particularly targeted Muslims it considers heretics, particularly Shiites. In August 2019, he claimed responsibility for an attack on the Shiites at a wedding in Kabul, in which 91 people died.

In addition, it is suspected that he perpetrated an attack in Kabul in May 2020 that shook the world. Gunmen opened fire at the maternity ward in a mostly Shiite neighborhood, killing 25 people, including 16 mothers and newborns.

In the provinces where it was implanted, the Isis-K left deep traces. His men shot dead, beheaded, tortured and terrorized the villagers and left mines everywhere.

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What is Isis-K’s relationship with the Taliban?

Although both groups are hardline Sunni Islamic militants, they are also rivals and differ on details about religion and strategy., and each one claims to be the true banner of jihad. In a display of their enmity, ISIS communiqués refer to the Taliban as apostates.

The ISIS-K faced the repression of the Taliban against its dissidents and could not extend its territory, just as it managed to do in Iraq and Syria. In 2019 the Afghan government army, after joint operations with the United States, announced that it defeated it in Nangarhar province.

According to US and UN assessments, ISIS-K has since operated largely through sleeper cells in cities to carry out media attacks.

How did ISIS receive the Taliban victory?

The Islamic State was highly critical of last year’s agreement between Washington and the Taliban. which led to a pact for the withdrawal of foreign troops, accusing them of abandoning the jihadist cause. After the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, various jihadist groups around the world congratulated them, but not Isis.

An Islamic State commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying the jihadists with the agreement with Washington and promised to continue their fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the communications of militant groups.

But the insurgent movement could take advantage of the situation. “Mr. Q”, a Western expert who publishes his research on Twitter under a pseudonym, said that ISIS-K carried out 216 attacks between January 1 and August 11, compared to 34 in the same period in 2020.

What is the threat at the Kabul airport?

Authorities from the United States and other Western countries had been warning that the Kabul airport, with thousands of American soldiers surrounded by huge crowds of desperate Afghans, was threatened by insurgent force.

In recent days, military transport planes have left the Afghan capital firing decoys, including those designed to deflect missiles. The area is also eventually exposed to mortar fire and suicide attacks, experts say.

Several analysts, including ExTrac, a private group specialized in processing data from jihadist groups, point out that Isis-K brutally halted its activity 12 days ago. Islamic State affiliates often disappear from the map when they activate “survival mode” or when they prepare a major attackExTrac explained.

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