ISIS Branch in Afghanistan Poses Terror Threat to Evacuation in Kabul

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An Islamic State affiliate that is simply a sworn force of some the Taliban and the United States threatens a large-scale onslaught against the ngo astatine the airport.

Outside the planetary   airdrome  successful  Kabul connected  Wednesday. The biggest contiguous  menace  to the Americans and the Taliban arsenic  the United States escalates its evacuation is ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate successful  Afghanistan.
Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Eric Schmitt

Aug. 25, 2021Updated 6:35 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The United States has been battling the Taliban and their militant partners successful Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, for 20 years.

But the biggest contiguous menace to some the Americans and the Taliban arsenic the United States escalates its evacuation astatine the Kabul airdrome earlier an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline is simply a communal rival that is lesser known: Islamic State Khorasan, oregon ISIS-K, the violent group’s affiliate successful Afghanistan.

Created six years agone by disaffected Pakistani Taliban, ISIS-K has carried retired dozens of attacks successful Afghanistan this year. American subject and quality analysts accidental threats from the radical see a bomb-laden truck, termination bombers infiltrating the assemblage extracurricular Hamid Karzai International Airport and mortar strikes against the airfield.

These threats, coupled with caller demands by the Taliban for the United States to permission by Aug. 31, astir apt influenced President Biden’s determination connected Tuesday to instrumentality to that deadline. “Every time we’re connected the crushed is different time we cognize that ISIS-K is seeking to people the airdrome and onslaught some U.S. and allied forces and guiltless civilians,” Mr. Biden said.

The threats laic bare a analyzable dynamic betwixt the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network, and their bitter rival, ISIS-K, successful what analysts accidental portends a bloody conflict involving thousands of overseas fighters connected some sides.

A United Nations study successful June concluded that 8,000 to 10,000 fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus portion of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang portion successful occidental China person poured into Afghanistan successful caller months. Most are associated with the Taliban oregon Al Qaeda, the study said, but others are allied with ISIS-K.

“Afghanistan has present go the Las Vegas of the terrorists, of the radicals and of the extremists,” said Ali Mohammad Ali, a erstwhile Afghan information official. “People each implicit the world, radicals and extremists, are chanting, celebrating the Taliban victory. This is paving the mode for different extremists to travel to Afghanistan.”

American officials accidental they are preparing to combat some contiguous and longer-term violent challenges successful Afghanistan. First and foremost is the menace astatine the Kabul airport.

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s nationalist information adviser, said connected Sunday that the menace from ISIS-K was “acute” and “persistent,” and that American commanders and different officials were taking each imaginable steps to thwart immoderate attacks.

That includes striking an improbable accommodation with the Taliban, astatine slightest temporarily, not lone to let harmless transition to American citizens and Afghan allies to the airdrome for flights retired of the country, but besides to actively support against an ISIS-K attack.


Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

The leaders of the Islamic State successful Afghanistan denounced the Taliban takeover of the country, criticizing their mentation of Islamic regularisation arsenic insufficiently hard line, and the 2 groups person fought successful caller years.

An onslaught connected the airport, existent and erstwhile American officials said, would beryllium a strategical stroke to some the United States and the Taliban leadership, which is trying to show that it tin power the country. Such a onslaught would bolster ISIS-K’s stature successful the jihadist world, but that accidental greatly diminishes aft the past American Marine oregon worker pulls out.

The Taliban and the Haqqani network, a militant radical based successful Pakistan, are fundamentally 1 and the same, coercion experts say. Siraj Haqqani has been the lawman emir of the Taliban since 2015. In turn, the Haqqanis are close, operationally and ideologically, to Al Qaeda.

“The Taliban, Haqqani network, and Al Qaeda relation arsenic a triumvirate, and 1 that is precise overmuch portion of the aforesaid militant network, they enactment unneurotic hand-in-glove,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism expert astatine the Soufan Group, a information consulting steadfast based successful New York.

These 3 entities are inextricably linked, Mr. Clarke said, and successful fact, person grown person implicit the past decade, a inclination that is apt to proceed aft the U.S. withdrawal, particularly arsenic they adjacent ranks against adversaries similar ISIS-K and the increasing absorption question successful Afghanistan’s north.

On the different broadside of the jihadist ledger is ISIS-K. The radical is 1 of galore affiliates that the Islamic State established aft it swept into bluish Iraq from Syria successful 2014, and created a spiritual authorities oregon caliphate the size of Britain. An American-led run crushed the caliphate, but much than 10,000 ISIS fighters stay successful Iraq and Syria, and ISIS affiliates similar the Sahel oregon the Sinai Peninsula are thriving.

But ISIS-K has ne'er been a large unit successful Afghanistan, overmuch little globally, analysts say. The group’s ranks person dropped to astir 1,500 to 2,000 fighters, astir fractional from its highest levels successful 2016 earlier American airstrikes and Afghan commando raids took a toll.

Since June 2020, however, nether an ambitious caller leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “remains progressive and dangerous,” and is seeking to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and different militants, the U.N. study concluded.

“They person not been a first-tier ISIS affiliate, but with the Afghan commandos gone and the American subject gone, does that springiness them breathing room? It could,” said Seth G. Jones, an Afghanistan specializer astatine the Center for Strategic and International Studies successful Washington.

Even arsenic the group’s wide ranks person declined successful caller years, Mr. Jones said, ISIS-K has maintained cells of clandestine fighters who person carried retired violent attacks.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

United Nations counterterrorism officials said successful the June study that the Islamic State had conducted 77 attacks successful Afghanistan successful the archetypal 4 months of this year, up from 21 successful the aforesaid play successful 2020. The attacks past twelvemonth included a onslaught against Kabul University successful November and a rocket barrage against the airdrome successful Kabul a period later. ISIS-K is believed to person been liable for a schoolhouse bombing successful the superior that killed 80 schoolgirls successful May.

“Kabul has been the people of the bulk of ISIS-K’s astir blase and analyzable attacks successful the past,” said Abdul Sayed, a specializer connected jihadist groups successful Afghanistan and Pakistan who is based successful Lund, Sweden.

Some analysts judge ISIS-K whitethorn person links to the Haqqani network. Indeed, Shahab al-Muhajir, the ISIS leader, is reported to person been a erstwhile midlevel Haqqani commandant earlier defecting.

“Since galore ISIS commanders and fighters were erstwhile portion of Al Qaeda oregon an Al Qaeda franchise, it is not astonishing that determination should beryllium this contact,” said Bruce Hoffman, a coercion student astatine the Council connected Foreign Relations. “In astir cases, this interaction has not produced immoderate lasting reconciliation.”


Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

The rivalry betwixt the Taliban and its partners and ISIS-K volition proceed aft the past American troops leave, analysts say. And the fragile practice betwixt American and Taliban commanders is already fraying, and the 2 could easy revert to their adversarial stances.

The American subject is treating the Taliban’s reddish enactment astir Aug. 31 seriously. The caller evacuations person been imaginable due to the fact that of Taliban practice — successful allowing astir radical to scope the airdrome unscathed, and successful moving against the menace of ISIS attacks, commanders say.

After Aug. 31, subject officials say, determination is simply a existent interest that astatine best, the practice with the Taliban volition end. At worst, that could pb to attacks connected U.S. forces, overseas citizens and Afghan allies, either by Taliban elements oregon by their turning a unsighted oculus to Islamic State threats.

Mr. Biden has pledged to forestall Afghanistan from again becoming a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and different violent groups that privation to onslaught the American homeland. Military commanders accidental that volition beryllium a hard task, with nary troops and fewer spies connected the ground, and equipped Reaper drones thousands of miles distant astatine bases successful the Persian Gulf.

In the February 2020 statement with the Trump administration, the Taliban vowed not to let Al Qaeda to usage Afghan territory to onslaught the United States. But analysts fearfulness that is not happening and that Al Qaeda remains the longer-term coercion threat.

As the U.N. study enactment it: “The Taliban and Al Qaeda stay intimately aligned and amusement nary denotation of breaking ties.”

Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Paris.

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