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ISIS in Afghanistan
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
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'outdated model' and they believe their more aggressive posture will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.
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
Conflict with ISIS by Iraq War News
Blog Posts about the Islamic State in Afghanistan by Afghan War News
Maps Depicting ISIS in Afghanistan
ISIS Locations in Afghanistan - Map by The Long War Journal
Papers and Publications about ISIS in Afghanistan
(listed in chronological order)
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).
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
www.usip.org/publications/ . . .
AAN, Descent into chaos: Why did Nangarhar turn into an IS hub?,
by Borhan Osman, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), September 27, 2016.
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.
MEI, Examining the Islamic State's Threat to Afghanistan, by
Lauren McNally, et al, Middle East Institute, May 25, 2016.
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.
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.
Ruttig, Thomas, "Afghan Taliban contain Islamic State's regional reach",
Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, November 17, 2015.
Mehl, Damon. "The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the
Islamic State", CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center, West
Point, June 29, 2015.
Rassler, Don. Situating the Emergence of the Islamic State of Khorasan,
Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, March 19, 2015.
Osman, Borhan. The Shadows of 'Islamic State' in Afghanistan: What
threat does it hold?", Afghanistan Analysts Network, February 12,
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",
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
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
May 1, 2015.
"ISIS-Linked Fighters Tighten Grip in Afghanistan, Outmatch Taliban
Brutality". NBC News. The Islamic State is growing in
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
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
March 4, 2015.
"Islamic State Rears Its Head in Afghan Region Bordering Central Asia".
Gandhara Blog. Afghan authorities confirm IS presence in Kunduz
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
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
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
February 12, 2015.
"Pentagon acknowledges ISIS spread to Afghanistan amid US troop drawdown".
The Hill Defense Blog.
Top of Page
1. See "Afghanistan Wakes Up to Islamic State
Threat", Gandhara Blog - Radio Free Europe, February 14, 2015.
2. For more on the rift between ISIS and the
"Taliban in Kunduz, ISIS in Nangarhar: Fiefdoms of Conflict in
Afghanistan", by Halimullah Kousary, The Diplomat, October 5,
"The Islamic State is growing in Afghanistan, and has its eyes on a
specific city", by Dan Lamoth, The Washington Post, October
4. For fighting between the Taliban and Islamic
"Taliban-IS War Escalates in Afghanistan, Pakistan", Gandhara
RFE/RL, May 2, 2017.