The Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) is blamed by Americans for Thursday’s deadly suicide attacks outside Kabul airport. It was formed in eastern Afghanistan six years ago and quickly grew into one of the world’s most dangerous terror threats.
Despite years of military targeting by the US-led coalition, the Islamic State Khorasan group has survived to launch a massive new offensive as the US and other NATO partners withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban retake power.
President Joe Biden cited the threat of Islamic State attacks in sticking to a Tuesday deadline for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan. Biden blamed the group for Thursday’s attacks, which included a suicide bomber who slipped into crowds of Afghans outside airport gates guarded by US service members.
In the face of its own heavy losses, the group has amassed a track record of highly lethal attacks. An examination of a lethal group influencing the course of the Kabul airlifts and US actions:
WHAT IS ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN?
The Islamic State’s Central Asia affiliate arose in the months following the group’s core fighters’ summer 2014 sweep across Syria and Iraq, carving out a self-styled caliphate, or Islamic empire. In Syria and Iraq, it took five years of fighting between local and international forces to demolish the caliphate.
The Afghanistan affiliate is named after the Khorasan Province, which in the Middle Ages encompassed much of Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia.
The organization is also known as ISK or ISIS K.
WHO ARE THE ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN’S FIGHTERS?
The group began with several hundred Pakistani Taliban fighters who fled to Afghanistan after military operations drove them out of their home country. Other, like-minded extremists joined them there, including disgruntled Afghan Taliban fighters who, unlike the West, saw the Taliban as being overly moderate and peaceful.
As the Taliban pursued peace talks with the US in recent years, disgruntled Taliban members increasingly defected to the more extremist Islamic State, swelling its ranks. Most were irritated that the Taliban was pursuing talks with the US at a time when they believed the movement was on the verge of a military victory.
The group has also attracted fighters from a neighboring country, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; fighters from Iran’s only Sunni Muslim majority province; and members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, which includes Uighurs from China’s northeast.
Many were drawn to the Islamic State’s violent and extreme ideology, which included promises of a caliphate to unite the Islamic world, which the Taliban never advocated.
WHAT MAKES ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN (ISK) A LEADING THREAT?
While the Taliban have limited their conflict to Afghanistan, the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and Pakistan has accepted the Islamic State’s call for a global jihad against non-Muslims.
Since January 2017, the Center for International and Strategic Studies has documented dozens of attacks by Islamic State fighters on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including minority Shiite Muslims, as well as hundreds of clashes with Afghan, Pakistani, and US-led coalition forces. Despite the fact that the group has yet to launch an attack on the US homeland, the US government believes it poses a long-term threat to US and allied interests in South and Central Asia.
WHAT IS THEIR ROLE WITH THE TALIBAN?
They are adversaries. While intelligence officials believe al-Qaida fighters are among the Taliban, the Taliban, on the other hand, has launched major, coordinated offensives against the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents worked alongside US and US-backed Afghan government forces to drive the Islamic State out of parts of Afghanistan’s northeast.
WHAT IS THE RISK NOW?
Even when the US had combat troops, aircraft, and armed drones stationed on the ground in Afghanistan to monitor and strike the Islamic State, militants were able to continue attacks despite suffering thousands of casualties, according to Amira Jadoon and Andrew Mines in a report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.
The withdrawal deprives the US of its on-the-ground strike capability in Afghanistan and threatens to erode the US’s ability to track the Islamic State and its attack planning. Officials from Biden’s administration say the Islamic State group is just one of many terror threats the administration is dealing with around the world. They insist they can handle it with so-called over-the-horizon military and intelligence assets stationed in Gulf states, aircraft carriers, or other far-flung locations.
One of the most serious concerns that the US has about withdrawing its combat forces after two decades is that Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, will become a magnet and base for extremists plotting attacks on the West.
That threat, according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, is something “we’re focused on, with every tool in our arsenal.”
(Source: The Associated Press)