ISIS in Afghanistan


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Afghan War News > Insurgency > ISIS in Afghanistan


Islamic State Flag


ISIS in Afghanistan (IS-KP)

The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in eastern Afghanistan is a matter of concern for the Afghan government, the Coalition, and the Taliban. While the beginnings of ISIS in Afghanistan may be limited in scope, it certainly is something to monitor. The presence of ISIS in Afghanistan was first reported in November 2014. Since then, the appointed leader of ISIS in Afghanistan - Abdul Rauf Khadem - has been killed by a Coaltion drone strike. Numerous insurgent groups in Afghanistan have declared solidarity with ISIS and have started to fly the black flag of ISIS. Another name for ISIS in Afghanistan is "Islamic State - Khorasan Province" (IS-KP) or "Islamic State - Khorasan" (IS-K).

In January 2015 the Islamic State formally declared the establishment of its "Khorasan" chapter. There are a network of actors who are now supporting the "Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK).

Khorasan? The name is from a centuries-old description of an area encompassing Afghanistan, Persia, and parts of Central Asia.

Competition with Taliban. It is likely that IS will be competing with the Taliban for resources, recruits, and terroritory. IS believes that the Taliban and al Qaeda are based on an 'outdated model' and they believe their more aggressive posture will attract funds, support, and recruits. Many jihadists believe that IS is the right organization to advance the creation of the caliphate and to implement the Islamic system. Some observers are hoping that the conflict between the Taliban and ISIS will provide an opportunity for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to exploit and solidify security in some of the troubled districts across the country; but others say 'not so much'. 2. 

Fighting between Taliban and IS-K. There are numerous reports of conflict between the Islamic State fighters and the Taliban. These reports are usually noting fights in the eastern part of Afghanistan - in Nangarhar province. 4.

Mullah Abdual Rauf Khadim. Khadim was a former Taliban commander and resident of Guantanamo. After his release he returned to Afghanistan to take up the fight against the Kabul regime and Coalition forces. He was actively recruiting for ISIS and was considered the appointed commander of IS in Afghanistan. On February 9, 2015 Khadim was killed in Helmand province during a military operation.

Islamic Organization of Great Afghanistan. This organization, based in eastern Afghanistan, has expressed a willingness to fight for the Islamic State 'caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Once of its leaders, Abdul Qadir Wahidi, is in prison for insurgent activities. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for serving as an IS spokesman and for his role in kidnapping a Ghazni official in late 2014. 1.

Who are ISIS Members in Afghanistan? Many observers believe that disaffected Taliban members and other insurgents who have rebranded themselves as ISIS. This rebranding is hoped to attact support, recruits and funding. The members are formerly of both the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban. Many IS-K members are former fighters with the Pakistani Taliban group referred to as TTP. There is support from the Orokzai tribe (Pakistan) as well as Central Asian militants. Some news reports indicate that IS-K is attempting to establish groups in Jouzjan and Faryab provinces (north Afghanistan).

Why Do Taliban Members Cross Over to ISIS? Some Taliban have been leary of attempts to negotiate with either Pakistan or Afghanistan for a peaceful conclusion to the conflict. Others are dissatisfied with the current leadership of the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar - the previous leader (now dead for two years) of the Taliban - was instrumental in holding the Afghan Taliban together; but with his death that hold has gone away. The IS propaganda machine has been successful in spreading its message and attracting young rural Afghans to its cause. In addition, offering salaries of up to $500 a month is a big incentive for unemployed young men to join IS.

Insurgent Groups taking Up the ISIS Flag. A number of insurgent groups active in Pakistan and Afghanistan are aligning with ISIS. These include the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) - also called the "Pakistani Taliban", and Lashkar e Taiba - a Pakistani militant group.

Where is ISIS Strongest? The Islamic State initially made headway in the eastern province of Nangarhar, the southern province of Zabul, and in parts of Kunduz province in the north. A number of Taliban fighters in these provinces have crossed over to ISIS and are now flying their flag and wearing the ISIS t-shirt. Offensive operations by the U.S. (drone strikes and SOF ground opns), the Afghan military, and the Taliban have reduced IS-K presence in the south and the north. IS-K presence in Nangarhar was probably at 3,000 in early 2016 but has been reduced to about 1,500 in early 2017.

How Much Control Does ISIS Central Have? The Afghan ISIS groups are a decentralized lot - and probably does not answer to the central organization based in Raqqa, Syria.


Websites Related to the ISIS in Afghanistan

Conflict with ISIS by Iraq War News
www.iraqwarnews.info/isis/conflict-ISIS.html

Blog Posts about the Islamic State in Afghanistan by Afghan War News Blog
http://afghanwarnews.blogspot.com/search/label/Islamic-State


Maps Depicting ISIS in Afghanistan

ISIS Locations in Afghanistan - Map by The Long War Journal
www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IS_Map_Afg.jpg


Papers and Publications about ISIS in Afghanistan
(listed in chronological order)

2017

AAN, Thematic Dossier XV: Daesh in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN), August 1, 2017. A collection of past papers and articles about the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP).
www.afghanistan-analysts.org/publication/aan-thematic-dossier/thematic-dossier-xv-daesh-in-afghanistan/

2016

Johnson, Casey Garret, The Rise and Stall of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), November 3, 2016. In this 16-page report the author, an independent researcher focusing on violent extremism and local politics in Afghanistan, details the structure, composition, and growth of the Islamic State's so-called Khorasan province and outlines considerations for internaitonal policymakers.
www.usip.org/publications/ . . . the-rise-and-stall-of-the-islamic-state-in-afghanistan

AAN, Descent into chaos: Why did Nangarhar turn into an IS hub?, by Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), September 27, 2016.
www.afghanistan-analysts.org/descent-into-chaos-why-did-nangarhar-turn-into-an-is-hub/

AAN, The Islamic State in 'Khorasan': How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar, by Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), July 27, 2016.
www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-islamic-state-in-khorasan-how-it-began-and-where-it-stands-now-in-nangarhar/

MEI, Examining the Islamic State's Threat to Afghanistan, by Lauren McNally, et al, Middle East Institute, May 25, 2016.
www.mei.edu/content/examining-islamic-states-threat-afghanistan

Johnson, Casey. Islamic State in Afghanistan: Assessing the Threat, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), April 2016. While the Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) had gained strength in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province starting in mid-2014 - it has been significantly hurt by the Taliban and U.S. air strikes. This 4-page paper evaluates several factors that could improve ISIS situation in Afghanistan and assesses the viability of IS in Afghanistan and whether it is a long-term threat.
www.usip.org/sites/default/files/PB202-The-Islamic-State-in-Afghanistan-Assessing-the-Threat.pdf

2015

Gambhir, Harleen. ISIS in Afghanistan, Institute for the Study of War (ISW), December 3, 2015. A paper covering the origins, current situation, politics, maps and more info about ISIS.
http://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISIS%20in%20Afghanistan.pdf

Ruttig, Thomas, "Afghan Taliban contain Islamic State's regional reach", Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, November 17, 2015.
www.afghanistan-analysts.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/oxford-analytica-afghan-taliban-contain-islamic-states-regional-reach.pdf

Mehl, Damon. "The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State", CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center, West Point, June 29, 2015.
www.ctc.usma.edu/?p=35522

Rassler, Don. Situating the Emergence of the Islamic State of Khorasan, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, March 19, 2015.
www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/situating-the-emergence-of-the-islamic-state-of-khorasan

Osman, Borhan. The Shadows of 'Islamic State' in Afghanistan: What threat does it hold?", Afghanistan Analysts Network, February 12, 2015.
https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-shadows-of-islamic-state-in-afghanistan-what-threat-does-it-hold/


Podcasts about ISIS in Afghanistan

July 23, 2015. Jihadology. The Lawfare Blog interviews Don Rassler of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point about the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Listen to Part One (July 21, 2015) and Part Two (July 23, 2015).


News Articles about ISIS in Afghanistan

April 29, 2017. "A Look at Islamic State's Operations in Afghanistan", by Noor Zahid, Voice of America. This article provides some facts, history, and background about the Islamic State Khorasan.

February 22, 2017. "The Expansion of ISIS in Northwestern Afghanistan", Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

September 27, 2016. "From the Taliban Frying Pan to the Islamic State Fire", by Heather Barr, Foreign Policy. Survivors from the Islamic State-controlled areas of Nangarhar speak of a cruel new regime that makes the Taliban look permissive by comparison.

July 28, 2016. "Speaking to an Afghan Disciple of the Caliphate". The Diplomat. Franz J. Marty, a free-lance journalist in Kabul interviews a commander of the self-declared Islamic State in Afghanistan.

February 5, 2016. "The Islamic State in 'Khorasan': a nuanced view", RUSI.org. Antonio Giustozzi writes about the current status of Daesh in Afghanistan.

January 20, 2016. "ISIS in Afghanistan: U.S. forces OK'd to attack emerging offshoot", Military Times. The White House has given the U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan a green light to target thousands of Islamic State militants in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

January 14, 2016. "Islamic State attack claim signals escalation by group in Afghanistan". Stars and Stripes.

January 14, 2016. "U.S. designates ISIS in Afghanistan as foreign terrorist organization", Khaama Press.

January 13, 2016. "The Graveyard of Caliphates". ISIS is having a tough time getting established in Afghanistan. The U.S. drones continue to wreck havoc and the Taliban are mixing it up with the Islamic State fighters.

December 8, 2015. "ISIS is stealing fighters from the Taliban in Afghanistan". The Independent. The Islamic State is making headway in Helmand province - providing a unified message and good money to recruits.

December 8, 2015. "Afghans battle Islamic State to stalemate in east", by Josh Smith, Stars and Stripes. The Islamic State has money for recuits, support from sanctuaries in Pakistan, and the ANDSF on the defense.

December 3, 2015. "Islamic State: Why Afghanistan isn't panicking - yet", The Christian Science Monitor. Naray district of Kunar province mostly controlled by IS.

November 17, 2015. "ISIS is in Afghanistan, But Who Are They Really?", FRONTLINE. Three experts tell us about ISIS - James Cunningham (former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan), Anand Gopal (book author), and Vanda Felbab-Brown (senior fellow at Brookings Institution).

October 13, 2015. "Afghan ISIS Branch Makes Inroads in Battle Against Taliban". The New York Times. ISIS is consolidating its hold on several districts in eastern Nangarhar province.

July 2, 2015. "Special Force formed to combat Daesh in Afghanistan". Khaama Press. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) has formed a special unit to combat the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

May 23, 2015. "ISIS actively recruiting in Afghanistan says US general". The Guardian. General John Campbell says that the group's sophisticated social-media campaign was attracting Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan.

May 8, 2015. "Islamic State and Jihadi Realignments in Khorasan". By Hekmatullah and James Weir, The Diplomat. The delicate yet volatile balance of jihadi movements and insurgents within Afghanistan may be about to shift.

May 1, 2015. "ISIS-Linked Fighters Tighten Grip in Afghanistan, Outmatch Taliban Brutality". NBC News. The Islamic State is growing in northern Afghanistan.

April 29, 2015. "Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?" World Affairs Journal. Rebecca Zimmerman of RAND Corporation says to temper fears.

April 22, 2015. "Wave of IS attacks? Claim and denial over the Jalalabad bombings", by Kate Clark and Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network.

April 18, 2015. "Islamic State blamed for Afghan suicide bombing killing 35". Military Times. The Taliban issued a statement saying they were not responsible; while ISIS says the did it.

April 14, 2015. "Former Afghan Spy Chief Says Islamic State is 'Psychological Warfare'". Gandhara Blog - Radio Free Europe. Former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) says ISIS in Afghanistan is a lot of propaganda.

March 30, 2015. "Uzbek Group in Afghanistan Pledge Allegiance to Islamic State". Radio Free Europe. Uzbeks belonging to the IMU says it supports ISIS.

March 28, 2015. "ISIS and Turkmenistan's Border Worries". The Diplomat. Turkmenistan is increasingly worried about its border with Afghanistan and the threat posed by ISIS.

March 13, 2015. "ISIS Expedition into Central Asia: A spoiler or boon for the Taliban? - Analysis", Eurasia Review. Does the Taliban benefit from the scare of the Islamic State making inroads into Central Asia?

March 5, 2015. "Mapping the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan". The Long War Journal. The map depicts IS training camps, presence, attacks, and clashes.

March 4, 2015. "Islamic State in AF-PAK: The 'Wilayat Khurasan' Conundrum - Analysis", Eurasia Review. In January 2015 the IS called on militants operating in the af-Pak region to declare their allegiance to their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his 'Caliphate'. They declared 'Wilayat Khurasan' (certain areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, etc.) as active.

March 4, 2015. "Islamic State Rears Its Head in Afghan Region Bordering Central Asia". Gandhara Blog. Afghan authorities confirm IS presence in Kunduz province.

February 26, 2015. "Militants of various stripes assemble under ISIL flag in northern Afghanistan." Central Asia Online. Although ISIL has not yet committed any attacks in Afghanistan, its attempt to expand its sphere of influence to Central and South Asia is alarming, analysts say.

February 25, 2015. "Fear of the Islamic State spawns a renegade Afghan militia". The Washington Post. A newly formed militia based in Mazar-e-Sharif named the Margh Militia says it will oppose IS attempts to gain a foothold in northern Afghanistan.

February 14, 2015. "Afghanistan Wakes Up to Islamic State Threat". Gandhara Blog - Radio Free Europe. The Afghan government finally comes clean on a small but growing threat to its security.

February 14, 2015. "Militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan Claiming Allegiance to IS". Radio Free Europe. Some militants are eager to claim affiliation with IS.

February 13, 2015. "All the Reasons Islamic State Won't Have it Easy in Afghanistan". By Kevin Knodell - War is Boring. For one, there's Taliban to deal with. For two, the Afghan population won't like the IS tactics.

February 12, 2015. "ISIS Could Further Unite Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gen. Campbell Says". Roll Call Blog. Campbell says the potential of Daesh in Afghanistan could force Afghanistan and Pakistan to work more closely together.

February 12, 2015. "Pentagon acknowledges ISIS spread to Afghanistan amid US troop drawdown". The Hill Defense Blog.


 

 

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Endnotes

1. See "Afghanistan Wakes Up to Islamic State Threat", Gandhara Blog - Radio Free Europe, February 14, 2015.
http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-islamic-state-threat/26849365.html

2. For more on the rift between ISIS and the Taliban read "Taliban in Kunduz, ISIS in Nangarhar: Fiefdoms of Conflict in Afghanistan", by Halimullah Kousary, The Diplomat, October 5, 2015.

3. See "The Islamic State is growing in Afghanistan, and has its eyes on a specific city", by Dan Lamoth, The Washington Post, October 6, 2015.

4. For fighting between the Taliban and Islamic State see "Taliban-IS War Escalates in Afghanistan, Pakistan", Gandhara RFE/RL, May 2, 2017.

 

 


 


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