ISIS has claimed responsibility for today’s attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, which cost the lives of dozens of people, including at least 12 American soldiers. The claim came through Amaq, the propaganda organ of the terrorist organization. But what organization is it exactly and how does it operate?
Immediately the first suspects of the attack fell on members of the Islamic State of the province of Khorasan, a terrorist group known as Isis-K or Iskp. Already for some days there were warnings from Western services that attributed to this group the intention of hitting the airlift operations in Kabul with a suicide attack. According to Charlie Winter, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Radicalization at the University of London, the airport and the departing crowds represent “a perfect meeting of different objectives” of the group: the American military, the pro-Western Afghans and the Taliban, who Isis-k considers apostates “.
The group, the Guardian recalls today, was founded six years ago in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, during a meeting between two ISIS emissaries and a group of Taliban disappointed by their commanders. At the time, the Islamic State was in full swing and controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria. The province name of Khorasan refers to medieval Muslim empires in an area between parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
ISIS believes that the Taliban have abandoned the Muslim faith, as they have agreed to deal with the Americans. He considers them too pragmatic and not strict enough in applying Islamic law. In Afghanistan, both the Taliban and al Qaeda opposed the expansion of ISIS-K, as did the deposed government in Kabul and Western forces, of course. For these the group was in difficulty in 2019 and the first part of 2020: it controlled little territory and had suffered losses of leaders and militants.
A report prepared for the UN stressed that the group was at that time in such difficulty as to offer an amnesty to those who had deserted. It was estimated that he had between 1200 and 1500 fighters in small areas of the provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, and had decided to decentralize the activity with small cells in various parts of the country.
But since June 2020, the group has equipped itself with a new leader, who would be an Arab unlike his Pakistani predecessors. And in the first four months of 2021, the UN mission in Afghanistan counted 77 attacks claimed or attributed to Isis-K, perpetrated against the Shiite minority, journalists, foreigners, military and civil infrastructure. It is not clear if this means a strengthening of the group or a different strategy. Earlier this year, intelligence specialists had reported to the UN that the group was trying to recruit disgruntled Taliban. Many ISIS-K fighters are not Afghans, they come from Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The link with the ISIS leadership in Iraq has remained, but it is unknown how close it is, and whether the order for today’s attack came from outside or the group acted autonomously.
The isis-k, the Guardian recalls, remains committed to striking in the West as well. The Taliban could try to prevent this, as they promised to do, but they may not necessarily be able to do so. “How much territory of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban? There is a lot of territory that ISIS can use. In the near future they may want to carry out attacks to appear in the news,” comments Aaron Zelin, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.