Terrorism strikes again in Afghanistan. After the attacks on two Shiite mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar just a few weeks ago, a military hospital in Kabul has become the target of IS-K (Islamic State of Khorasan). A suicide bomber detonated explosives near the hospital Sadar Mohammad Daud Khan and gunmen subsequently entered the building. The attack killed more than 20 people and wounded more than 50, according to Afghan sources. Reuters also reports that two Taliban armed forces helicopters flew over the hospital during the assault. "This would be one of the first times the Taliban have used aircraft captured from the former Western-backed government during an operation," the news agency notes. As the Taliban conquered Afghan cities, their military arsenal grew. The insurgents obtained US weapons, vehicles and helicopters that had been handed over to Afghan national forces.
"I heard a big explosion coming from the first checkpoint. We were told to go to safe rooms. I also heard gunshots," a doctor at the hospital, told AFP. "The attackers went from room to room," he added. Other witnesses also reported another explosion, 30 minutes after the first one was reported. Hours after the attack, a group linked to IS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.
Among those killed in the blast was Maulvi Hamdullah Mukhlis, a senior Taliban member who was also a member of the Haqqani network and the Badri 313 special forces. The Haqqani network is a group that came into existence in the 1980s with the aim of fighting the Soviet invasion. For this reason, the organisation received US funding. Subsequently, the organisation was considered a terrorist organisation by Washington after attacking Afghan national forces and international coalition troops. Today, the network is a major player in the Afghan government. Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder, is Interior Minister, while his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, is in charge of the Ministry of Refugees. In addition to being members of the Taliban Executive, both are on the US Most Wanted List.
On the other hand, the Badri 313 special forces is a more effective military unit than the regular Taliban. This battalion was, for example, in charge of security around Kabul airport at the end of August. It is also closely linked to the Haqqani network.
Mukhlis was very influential within the Taliban. He was one of the first senior commanders to enter Ashraf Ghani's office after seizing the presidential palace in Kabul. "IS terrorists have succeeded in killing their first major target. Mukhlis was the most charismatic leader of the Taliban. This must have shaken the Taliban leadership," wrote Bilal Sarwari, an Afghan journalist, on his Twitter account.
Sarwari stressed that we must "watch developments closely in the coming days, weeks and months". "Is this the beginning of a new order in Afghanistan, will this affect Taliban morale, will this attack boost IS-K morale and provoke more attacks on Taliban leaders?" he added.
Since foreign troops left Afghanistan, IS-K has become a major enemy of the Islamic Emirate. Daesh attacks have increased significantly since the Taliban took over Kabul. These attacks have targeted both Taliban members and civilians. IS-K violence has included explosions at Kabul airport in late August that killed more than 80 people, including 13 US Marines, the latest to die in Afghanistan. Moreover, the terrorists have focused their hatred on Afghan Shiites, a community also oppressed by the Taliban.
According to experts, IS-K has been strengthened by the lack of anti-terrorist units. It also benefited after the Taliban decided to release many fighters from prisons across the country. Many of the insurgents released were members of Daesh. "Death, destruction and displacement will likely affect tens of thousands of Afghans in the coming months and years if IS-K goes unchecked," warns Andrew Mines, a researcher on extremism at George Washington University, to the Afghan media outlet Radio Azadi.
It is precisely Afghan civilians who are really affected by this bloody war between the Taliban and IS-K. In every attack, Afghan citizens have been among the victims. "Two or three people are killed every day," a resident of Nangarhar, an IS-K stronghold, told the Afghan radio station. "As an Afghan citizen, I am really tired of this war and its explosions. How long do we have to put up with this misery?," says another Afghan, as quoted by the BBC.
Analysts also warn of a potential Taliban power vacuum in some regions, which IS-K could use to expand its influence. "If the country is unstable, it delegitimises the Taliban and could provide IS-K with opportunities to rule in areas where the Taliban are diminished," says Jacob Zenn of the Jamestown Foundation, "Ironically, Daesh could try a strategy against the Taliban that the Taliban had used against the US," he adds.
Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, however, has said that the new government is "getting a handle on the problem" posed by IS-K. Taliban forces have carried out attacks against terrorist cells. In early October, for example, they organised several raids north of Kabul.