Taliban-ISIS-K war highlights Afghanistan's insecurity

A month after the US withdrawal, Afghanistan becomes a theatre of confrontation between terrorist groups
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After the takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan has been left in the hands of the Taliban, a regime that has plunged the country back into insecurity and chaos. While the Taliban encouraged its population not to leave the country and ensured the security of the territory, the Daesh-affiliated group ISIS-K (the Islamic State's Khorasan province) committed a series of attacks that opened an internal war between the two Islamic groups.

Four days before the full withdrawal of US troops, ISIS-K committed a series of attacks in the vicinity of Kabul airport, killing 180 people and hundreds of civilians. The response from Western troops was clear: in the aftermath of the attack, the various armies hastily withdrew, leaving the country to the mercy of terrorism.

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The Kabul attacks were not the only attacks committed by the jihadist group. They were followed by attacks in the city of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar and one of the terrorist group's most common targets. In a Telegram message, ISIS-K claimed to have killed 35 Taliban, a claim the insurgent group has consistently denied.

Although the international community has decided to contribute more than a billion dollars to help the country, it remains sceptical, fearing that Afghanistan could become a haven for the world's most wanted terrorist groups. In this regard, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "the Taliban are committed to preventing terrorist groups, including ISIS K or Al Qaeda, from using Afghanistan as a base for foreign operations that could threaten the United States or our allies (...) we will hold them accountable".

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Thus, in the face of multiple offensives by ISIS-K and in line with the Taliban's new strategy of disassociating itself from terrorist acts in order to have international support, the insurgents have launched a series of offensives against the jihadist group, according to different reports, offensives in which they have arrested at least 80 alleged terrorists in Nangarhar. They have also claimed to have killed former ISIS-K leader Abu Omar Khorasani in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi prison.

In addition to wanting to fight against the common enemy of the international community, the Taliban fear that the presence of these groups in Afghanistan and their consequent increase in power could encourage Taliban members to desert and join the ranks of Daesh.

Their elimination goes beyond a desire to ensure security; it is a purely strategic offensive, a power struggle between radical Islamic groups that are vying for the power to rule freely in the country by means of violence. 

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This fear responds to more than tangible historical facts, as Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadem himself, one of the first leaders of the ISIS-K ranks, was a Taliban defector. Before leaving the group, Khadem had been serving both the Taliban government of the 1990s and was part of the rebellion during the US presence in Afghanistan. Similarly, several senior Pakistani Taliban commanders reportedly pledged allegiance to the jihadist group in 2015.

For its part, ISIS-K aims to establish itself as the leading jihadist organisation in the region. Through its terrorist attacks against the civilian population, the jihadist group wants to spread terror and uncertainty in an attempt to push disillusioned fighters from different groups to join its ranks.

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What is clear is that one of the most prominent goals of ISIS-K is to show that the Taliban do not have Afghanistan under their control and thus to show that the group does not stand on strong pillars. In contrast to the Taliban's designs, Daesh jihadists want to create a global caliphate. In the short term, given the jihadists' new forms of organisation, their immediate objectives in Afghanistan are to attack not only Afghan civilians and minorities, but also civilian institutions and the staff of humanitarian aid organisations.

If the group manages to consolidate itself, as it has done in Syria and Iraq, and recruit more fighters, the terrorist organisation could cease to be just a regional threat in Afghanistan and become an international threat once again, destabilising the foundations of international security at the global level in a new struggle against the West.