The Afghanistan Bulletin
As the Taliban Fail to Deliver Peace and Safety that They Promised, Afghanistan’s Security Further Deteriorates.
Since the Taliban takeover of power nearly a year ago, ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State in Afghanistan has stepped up its attacks across the country, turning into an insurgency that poses a growing threat to the Taliban rule. A global survey of ISIS’s attacks around the world in 2021 shows that the group has killed and injured more people in Afghanistan than anywhere else. In 2021, the group carried out 365 terrorist attacks in the country that resulted in 2,210 casualties, up from 82 attacks in 2020.
For all the Taliban rhetoric about ending the war and restoring peace, Afghan civilians are targeted by the Islamic State fighters. Taliban’s claim to keep Afghanistan safe cannot be ironic enough. During the last two-decades the Taliban killed and injured tens of thousands of Afghans as part of their insurgent war against the Afghan government and international forces, hence being the main reason behind the lack of peace and security themselves. Today, as the Taliban attempts to evolve from an insurgency into a governing structure, another insurgency is waging war against them. ISIS-K has leveraged the lack of counterterrorism operations caused by the United States' military withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghan government in order to expand its activities.
The group conducted its deadliest attack on the chaotic days of American departure from Afghanistan in August 2021 at the Kabul International Airport when an ISIS suicide bomber killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 US service members. Following the withdrawal of international forces, the group has mainly focused on targeting minority Shia communities and the Taliban units. ISIS-K targets Shia mosques, schools, hospitals and residential areas, as well as Afghanistan’s Sikh religious minority as seen in its latest attack in June. Additionally, the group has killed health workers, journalists, and civil society activists. Initially formed in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, ISIS-K was founded by defected Pakistani and Afghan Taliban members who deemed those groups not to be extreme enough.
The Taliban regime all of a sudden finds itself struggling with delivering on its hallmark promises of providing security and maintaining law and order. With an army trained for rural guerrilla warfare, the regime is having trouble defending itself and the general public against ISIS attacks in crowded cities. The Taliban has insisted that ISIS is not posing a real threat, indicating that the regime is well capable of handling the threat. Part of the Taliban’s overconfidence and hubris comes from the fact that they think ISIS has minimum to no support among the local population especially in the rural areas. In reality, trust and reliance could erode as Taliban themselves commit grave human rights violations, fail at governing on all levels by causing a humanitarian disaster, a crumbling economy, and a healthcare system in decay.
What’s more, the regime is using ISIS as a pretext to persecute and suppress any internal domestic opposition, including former government employees, members of the ANDSF and resistance groups. ISIS has positioned itself to capitalize on these grievances as well as the offer of cash money to expand its membership. As the Taliban are consolidating power and paying attention to restricting the rights of Afghan people and repressing voices of opposition, ISIS is cleverly taking advantage of this opportunity to expand its gruesome activities. The implications could not be any more dangerous. US officials think that ISIS-K could strike outside of Afghanistan within six to 12 months, and that al Qaeda could do the same within one to two years.