Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K)
ISIL in Afghanistan
The head of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate has been arrested along with 19 other militants, Afghan officials said 04 April 2020. Abdullah Orakzai, who goes by Aslam Farooqi, was detained by forces from the National Directorate of Security, the country’s main intelligence agency said in a statement.
The collapse of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq did little to slow down the terror group's branch in Afghanistan. Declassified intelligence suggested IS-Khorasan, as the group is known, is growing both in numbers and ambition, now boasting as many as 5,000 fighters — nearly five times as many as estimates from 2018 — while turning its focus to bigger and more spectacular attacks. Military officials say the numbers, shared by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan for the May 2019 quarterly report by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom Sentinel, issued Tuesday, are "low confidence" estimates but that IS-Khorasan has fighters in Kabul, as well as in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces and in other parts of northeastern Afghanistan. More worrisome, according to defense intelligence officials, is that the terror group has been gaining ground, both against the Afghan government and the Taliban, expanding the amount of territory under its control in Kunar province since the start of 2019.
The renewed state of IS in Afghanistan would appear to represent a remarkable turnaround from the terror group's fortunes in April 2017, when the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on an IS tunnel system in Nangarhar province. A series of subsequent U.S. strikes killed the then IS-Khorasan emir and his replacement, and cut the estimated number of fighters from 3,000 to 600. Top U.S. military officials insisted IS-Khorasan was being kept in check. "ISIS-K is not growing," Gen. John Nicholson, the outgoing commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in September 2018 before handing over the command to Gen. Scott Miller.
Despite losing key leaders and suffering constant setbacks on the battlefield, IS-Khorasan found a way to maintain its numbers, successfully recruiting disgruntled Taliban fighters as well as jihadis from further afield. IS-Khorasan has benefited from surges of thousands of foreign fighters from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, plus the inflow of hundreds of IS fighters fleeing from Syria. And increasingly, many of IS-Khorasan's recruits are local, with fewer coming from the ranks of disgruntled Taliban fighters. And the group has even taken a page out of IS core's playbook, targeting young men seeking economic opportunity.
The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K) aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Central Asia; counter Westerners and Shia Muslims. Areas of operation include a stronghold in Nangarhar Province near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and operating in Kunar, Laghman, Jowzjan provinces with pockets of support throughout Afghanistan. Itecruits from among the local population, Central Asian extremists in Afghanistan, and other militant groups, such as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
By 2018 ISIS-K had suffered setbacks from U.S. CT operations, ANDSF operations, pressure from the Taliban, and from difficulties in gaining local populace support. Despite some losses of territory, fighters, and leadership, ISIS-K remains a threat to coalition forces and retains the ability to conduct HPAs in urban centers, particularly Kabul.
ISIS-K recruits and distributes propaganda in many Afghan provinces. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for attacks against Shia minorities and the ANDSF around the country, including increased claimed attacks in Kabul. Command, control, and funding from core ISIS elements in Iraq and Syria are limited. The group relies on external funding; however, they appear to have funding streams within Afghanistan. The struggle for resources has brought ISIS-K into conflict with the Taliban and other groups vying to raise revenue from illegal checkpoints and the trade of illicit goods. ISIS-K continues to draw its members from new recruits in Pakistan and Afghanistan, disaffected TTP fighters, Afghan Taliban, and militants from other violent extremist organizations who believe that associating with or pledging allegiance to ISIS-K will further their interests.
Bin Laden repeatedly argued that Afghanistan had become a model Islamic state under his Taliban hosts and used religious rhetoric to solicit support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. A top commander in Afghanistan said in 2014 that there was no indication of any connections between ISIL and the Taliban. ISIL in Afghanistan is nascent at best. In fact, it was more aspirational than anything else as of 2015.
Army Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee 12 February 2015 “The possible rise of Daesh -- or ISIL -- is also a new development. Thus far we think the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan represents more of a rebranding of a few marginalized Taliban. But we are still taking this potential threat, with its dangerous rhetoric and ideology, very, very seriously.”
A few Taliban rebranded themselves as ISIL. This was most likely an attempt to attract media attention, solicit greater resources, and increase recruitment. The Taliban networks are well established, and significant ideological and cultural differences exist between the movements. The Taliban have declared that they will not allow ISIL in Afghanistan, but the potential emergence of ISIL sharply focused the ANSF, National Directorate of Security (NDS), and political leadership. All are collaborating closely in order to prevent this threat from expanding.
Additionally, the budding presence of ISIL in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas also offers another opportunity for both countries to work together. As of 2015, the US assessed that there was only a low probability that ISIL can establish a large, credible presence in Afghanistan.
The Defense Department announced 10 February 2015 the deaths of eight individuals, including a former Taliban commander, killed during precision airstrikes in Afghanistan. Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby told Pentagon reporters the airstrikes were a “reminder,” and emphasized using all available methods to dismantle terrorist groups threatening US, partner and allied interests. “Yesterday, U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted a precision strike in Helmand province,” he said, “resulting in the death of eight individuals, to include Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander.”
Khadim was a former Guantanamo detainee who was released and went back to the -- to work with the Taliban, He was released in 2007. He was released to Kabul. Khadim was assessed as having decided to swear allegiance to ISIL probably no more than a couple weeks earlier. And he didn't have a whole lot of depth to any network resources or manpower when he did it.
Admiral Kirby noted Khadim, and his associates, were targeted because “we had information that they were planning operations against U.S. and Afghan personnel there in Afghanistan.... If they’re going to threaten our interest, our allies, our partners in Afghanistan, they’re fair game.”
The Islamic State has infiltrated into Afghanistan and is attempting to step into the Taliban's boots, acknowledged the UN Security Council. The presence of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters in the country has been confirmed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The UN envoy to Afghanistan acknowledged that the IS could potentially unite minor Islamist groups in the country under a new command.
“It is UNAMA’s assessment that the group's presence is of concern, but that ISIL's significance is not so much a function of its intrinsic capacities in the area but of its potential to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups can rally,” Nicholas Haysom announced at the UN Security Council 17 March 2015. Still, the IS has not established “firm roots” in the Afghanistan, he noted.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said 18 April 2015 the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Saturday that killed at least 33 people in eastern Afghanistan. Officials say more than 100 other people were wounded in the attack in Jalalabad. President Ghani called the incident "horrific," as he announced Islamic State militants had taken credit. He referred to the group as "Daesh" — an acronym for its name in Arabic. The Taliban had earlier denied responsibility for the bombing, calling it an "evil act."
United Nations officials and skeptics in Afghanistan appeared cautious about claims Islamic State militant group was behind the suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan in which 35 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Even though the terrorist group had not formally acknowledged its presence in Afghanistan, local authorities and media had in recent weeks reported the emergence of pro-Islamic State fighters waving its black flag.
Many areas under IS control used to be under the control of the Taliban. Locals said, however, that the violence the Taliban perpetrated was not as brutal as the methods used by IS. Even in other ways, people said, the Taliban in the area were less restrictive. When IS militants wrested control of the Nangarhar district from the Taliban, they not only closed the girls’ schools, they also shut down many medical clinics.
In March 2016 Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, deputy chief of staff for communications for NATO's Resolute Support Mission estimated that current numbers of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan are "probably on the lower end" of between 1,000 and 3,000.
Islamic State (IS) appeared to be losing its grip in Afghanistan, due in part to a steady aerial bombardment from U.S. and NATO forces and the terror group's failure to win over Afghans themselves. "Nobody really wants Daesh [Islamic State] in the neighborhood," Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, told Pentagon reporters April 14, 2016.
"We think we have significantly decreased the footprint that they have in Afghanistan," he said. The U.S. military estimatef there are between 1,000 and 3,000 IS fighters left in Afghanistan, though Cleveland said the actual number is "probably on the lower end of that." Three months earlier, IS held between six and eight districts, he said. Now it held just two to three. IS fighters have been seen fleeing to the Kunar and Nuristan provinces along Afghanistan's western border with Pakistan, where they are just "trying to survive," Cleveland said.
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