With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan complete and the Taliban the sole authority in Kabul, the tough task of governing now falls on the shoulders of Islamist militants who have been out of power for 20 years. The Taliban’s greatest obstacle to consolidating control over the entire country is likely to be fellow Islamist militants of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K.
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the devastating terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 27 that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and at least 170 Afghans. The mayhem that ensued following the suicide attack severely damaged the credibility the Taliban had been trying to exert as the guarantors of security and stability surrounding Kabul’s airport while the U.S. and its allies completed the evacuation.
When the Taliban walked into Kabul virtually unopposed as the U.S. and Afghan allies were frantically trying to evacuate the country, the Taliban assured the U.S. that they would protect Kabul and the airport and provide desperately needed stability to the beleaguered city. The ISIS attack directly undercut this message and leaves open the question whether or not the Taliban can exercise its authority and control over a resistive population with ISIS-K on the offensive and a budding resistance movement brewing out of Panjshir Valley.
The instability that may be caused by a resurgent ISIS-K undermines the Taliban’s main argument in signing the 2020 Doha agreement with the United States, whereby the group assured the U.S. that Afghanistan will not again become a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the U.S. or its allies in exchange for a full U.S. withdrawal.
As the U.S. withdrawal was moving apace, ISIS-K’s attack on the airport was strategic and calculated.
“The Islamic State’s attack likely had multiple objectives, including disrupting U.S. operations at the airport and embarrassing the Taliban as the Taliban tries to distance itself from terrorist groups and portray itself as being capable of providing security throughout the country,” Charles Thorson, Stratfor global security analyst at RANE, told Fox News.
“The attack also probably serves longer-term objectives of driving recruitment and reinvigorating the Islamic State’s image within the global jihadist community amid the group’s downfall in Iraq and Syria, Thorson added. ISIS-K is estimated to have between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters operating in Afghanistan and its ranks swelled with more fighters after prisoners were released when the Afghan government collapsed.
A main gripe of ISIS-K with the Taliban is the deal the group negotiated with the United States in Doha. ISIS-K considers the Taliban traitors for entering into talks with the United States and announced its intentions to undermine the deal by launching a war against the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government. While the Taliban…
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