How dangerous is Afghanistan’s Islamic State?

The outbreak of the Islamic State, blamed by the Americans for a deadly suicide attack outside Kabul airport, merged in eastern Afghanistan six years ago and quickly grew into one of the more dangerous terrorist threats globally.

Despite years of military attacks by the US-led coalition, the group known as Islamic State Khorasan has survived to launch a massive new attack as the United States and other NATO partners withdraw from Afghanistan and as the Taliban return to power. .

President Joe Biden cited the threat of Islamic State attacks by sticking to a Tuesday deadline to pull US forces out of Afghanistan. Biden blamed the group for Thursday’s attack, which included a suicide bomber who slipped into the crowd of Afghans outside the airport gates controlled by U.S. officials.

The group has built up a record of very deadly attacks in light of its own heavy losses. A look at a deadly group influencing the course of the Kabul airlifts and US actions:

WHAT IS ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN?

Islamic State’s Central Asia affiliation emerged in the months after the group’s core fighters swept across Syria and Iraq, carving out a self-proclaimed caliphate or Islamic empire in the summer of 2014. In Syria and Iraq, local and international forces took five years of subsequent fighting to roll back the caliphate. .

The Afghan subsidiary takes its name from Khorasan province, a region that covered large parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia in the Middle Ages.

The group is also known as ISK or ISIS K.

WHO ARE THE FIGHTERS OF THE ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN?

The group started with hundreds of Pakistani Taliban fighters seeking refuge across the border into Afghanistan after military operations drove them out of their homeland. Other like-minded extremists joined those there, including disgruntled Afghan Taliban fighters who were dissatisfied with what they – unlike the West – saw as the Taliban’s overly moderate and peaceful ways.

As the Taliban pursued peace talks with the United States in recent years, the disgruntled Taliban increasingly moved to the more extremist Islamic State, increasing its numbers. Most were frustrated that the Taliban were pursuing negotiations with the United States at a time when they believed the movement was heading for a military victory.

The group has also attracted a significant cadre from the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan, from the neighboring country; fighters from Iran’s only Sunni Muslim majority province; and members of the Turkistan Islamic Party consisting of Uighurs from the northeast of China.

Many were attracted to the violent and extreme ideology of the Islamic State, including promises of a caliphate to unite the Islamic world, a goal that the Taliban have never defended.

WHAT MAKES THEM A LEADING THREAT?

While the Taliban have limited their fight to Afghanistan, the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and Pakistan has responded to Islamic State’s call for a worldwide jihad against non-Muslims.

Center for International and Strategic Studies counts dozens of attacks carried out by Islamic State fighters against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Shiite minority Muslims, as well as hundreds of clashes with Afghan, Pakistani and US-led coalition forces since January 2017. Although the group has not yet carried out attacks on its US homeland, the US government believes it poses a chronic threat to United States and Allied interests in South and Central Asia.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TALIBAN?

They are enemies. While intelligence officials believe al-Qaeda fighters are integrated into the Taliban, the Taliban have launched large-scale, coordinated offensives. against Islamic State in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents at times joined forces with both US and US-backed Afghan government forces to overthrow Islamic State from parts of northeastern Afghanistan.

A U.S. Department of Defense official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he worked in secret said earlier that the Trump administration had sought its 2020 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, in part hoping to merge with them against the Islamic State affiliate. The administration saw that group as the real threat to the American homeland.

WHAT IS THE RISK NOW?

Even when the United States had combat troops, aircraft and armed drones stationed on the ground in Afghanistan to monitor and attack Islamic State, Islamic State militants were able to continue the attacks despite suffering thousands of casualties, Amira Jadoon and Andrew Mines note in a report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

The withdrawal deprives the United States of its offensive capacity on the ground in Afghanistan and threatens to weaken its ability to track Islamic State and its attack planning. Biden officials say the Islamic State group is just one of many terrorist threats it deals with globally. They insist they can do it with so-called over-the-horizon military and intelligence assets, based in the Gulf states, on aircraft carriers or other more remote places.

One of the United States’ biggest fears of withdrawing its fighting forces after two decades is that Afghanistan under Taliban rule will once again become a magnet and base for extremists planning attacks on the West.

That threat, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN last weekend was something we “are focused on, with every tool in our arsenal.”

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Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City and Gannon from Islamabad.

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