Counter Terrorism Perspectives: CTP

TM: "Islamic State-Khorasan Remains Potent Force in Afghan Jihad"

June 05, 2020

Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) has dominated the jihadist landscape of Afghanistan for the past several years while sharing turf with the powerful Taliban. It has suffered several significant setbacks in recent months, including a leadership crisis and territorial losses in its former provincial strongholds of Nangarhar and Kunar. Both Afghan government forces and the Taliban claimed to have accosted and defeated IS-K in 2019. The perceived downfall coincided with Islamic State’s (IS) crumbling caliphate in the Middle East and the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A string of arrests and mass surrenders of IS-K fighters led to the assumption that concerted government offensives have disrupted the group’s command and control structures. In November 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself said that IS-K was “obliterated” in Afghanistan (Ariana News, November 25, 2019).

While obituaries poured out in later 2019 predicting IS-K’s imminent collapse, the group seemed to recover, launching several terrorist attacks on civilians and security forces between March and May. Recently, four significant strikes proved the operational capability and resiliency of the group. On May 12, an IS-K suicide bombing at the funeral ceremony of Shaikh Akram—a police commander in the eastern province of Nangarhar—killed at least 32 people and more than 60 people were injured (Tolo News, May 13). Claiming responsibility for the attack, IS’ statement claimed the suicide bomber, Abdallah al-Ansari, killed and wounded ‘100 non-believers.’

Another purported IS-K suicide assault occurred at a maternity hospital in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of the capital Kabul on May 12. The attack killed at least 24 civilians, including children (Afghanistan Times, May 13). Though there was no official claim from IS-K, suspicion has fallen squarely on the group. The other potential culprit, the Taliban, denied any involvement in the attack. Government security agencies and the United States have blamed IS-K for the recent series of deadly attacks in capital Kabul and in Nangarhar province (Afghanistan Times, May 15). While IS-K media units are still silent on the violence inflicted on the maternity ward, the group claimed responsibility for multiple low-intensity mine blasts in Kabul on May 11. The bombs targeted vehicles belonging to the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The jihadist group’s statement, however, erroneously claimed that 15 security force personnel had been killed or wounded in the attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

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Source: Animesh Roul, "Islamic State-Khorasan Remains Potent Force in Afghan Jihad,"
Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), Volume: 18 Issue: 11, June 3, 2020

Animesh Roul is the executive director of the New Delhi based policy research group Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict. He specializes in counterterrorism, radical Islam, terror financing, and armed conflict and violence in South Asia