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Coming Soon: A Taliban, Pentagon Alliance?


ISIS-K

I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan but it was pre-Taliban and I can't say I know how a Talib thinks or reasons. That said, I think the U.S. and the Taliban are going to start moving towards a kind of tactical alliance similar to the one they had before 9/11. Polling shows that most Americans are panic-stricken in regard to the Taliban and that's pretty much idiotic. Let me start with some responses from the latest YouGov poll for The Economist and their questions about the Taliban.


Is the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan a threat to the United States. Foolishly, most registered voters (60%) say it is and just 14% realize it isn't. Among 2020 Trump voters, 83% say it is and just 6% realize it isn't. When asked if the U.S. should negotiate with the Taliban, just 24% of regifted votes thought so, while 41% say they oppose negotiations. Among 2020 Trump voters, just 18% support negotiations while 55% are opposed. And in terms of trading with them-- we need some of those rare minerals we've been fighting for-- 8% of registered voters are for it and 65% are opposed.


And then, a really stupid question that shows how really stupid most Americans are: "What do you think are the chances of a terrorist attack against the United States in the next 12 months? 54% say likely; just 27% say unlikely. (78% of Trump voters think it's likely.)


Yesterday, Señor Trumpanzee went on Fox and he boasted how he "knocked out 100% of the ISIS caliphate" but that then along came "ISIS-X." When he then realized ISIS-X doesn't exist, instead of just correcting himself the way a normal person would, he then dug his hole a little deeper: "They’ll have an ISIS-X pretty soon, which is gonna be worse than ISIS-K." I can't wait to see polling showing how Trump voters claim that ISIS-X is indeed worse than ISIS-K. Writing for Informed Consent this morning, Amira Jadoon, Assistant Professor at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and Andrew Mines, a research fellow at George Washington University's Program on Extremism, asked Who is ISIS-K? Too bad Señor T hadn't read it before making a fool out of himself.


The Islamic State Khorasan Province [historically much of modern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan], which is also known by the acronyms ISIS-K, ISKP and ISK, is the official affiliate of the Islamic State movement operating in Afghanistan, as recognized by Islamic State core leadership in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS-K was officially founded in January 2015. Within a short period of time, it managed to consolidate territorial control in several rural districts in north and northeast Afghanistan, and launched a lethal campaign across Afghanistan and Pakistan. Within its first three years, ISIS-K launched attacks against minority groups, public areas and institutions, and government targets in major cities across Afghanistan and Pakistan.
By 2018, it had become one of the top four deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index.
But after suffering major territorial, leadership and rank-and-file losses to the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan partners-- which culminated in the surrender of over 1,400 of its fighters and their families to the Afghan government in late 2019 and early 2020-- the organization was declared, by some, to be defeated.
ISIS-K was founded by former members of the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Over time, though, the group has poached militants from various other groups.
One of the group’s greatest strengths is its ability to leverage the local expertise of these fighters and commanders. ISIS-K first started to consolidate territory in the southern districts of Nangarhar province, which sits on Afghanistan’s northeast border with Pakistan and is the site of al-Qaida’s former stronghold in the Tora Bora area.
ISIS-K used its position on the border to garner supplies and recruits from Pakistan’s tribal areas, as well as the expertise of other local groups with which it forged operational alliances.
Substantial evidence shows that the group has received money, advice, and training from the Islamic State group’s core organizational body in Iraq and Syria. Some experts have placed those figures in excess of US$100 million.
ISIS-K’s general strategy is to establish a beachhead for the Islamic State movement to expand its so-called caliphate to Central and South Asia.
It aims to cement itself as the foremost jihadist organization in the region, in part by seizing the legacy of jihadist groups that came before it. This is evident in the group’s messaging, which appeals to veteran jihadist fighters as well as younger populations in urban areas.
Like the group’s namesake in Iraq and Syria, ISIS-K leverages the expertise of its personnel and operational alliances with other groups to carry out devastating attacks. These attacks target minorities like Afghanistan’s Hazara and Sikh populations, as well as journalists, aid workers, security personnel and government infrastructure.
ISIS-K’s goal is to create chaos and uncertainty in a bid to push disillusioned fighters from other groups into their ranks, and to cast doubt on any ruling government’s ability to provide security for the population.
ISIS-K sees the Afghan Taliban as its strategic rivals. It brands the Afghan Taliban as “filthy nationalists” with ambitions only to form a government confined to the boundaries of Afghanistan. This contradicts the Islamic State movement’s goal of establishing a global caliphate.
Since its inception, ISIS-K has tried to recruit Afghan Taliban members while also targeting Taliban positions throughout the country.
ISIS-K’s efforts have met with some success, but the Taliban have managed to stem the group’s challenges by pursuing attacks and operations against ISIS-K personnel and positions.
These clashes have often occurred in tandem with U.S. and Afghan air power and ground operations against ISIS-K, although the full extent to which these operations were coordinated is still unclear.

This morning, Yahoo News' editor, Peter Weber, reported that the Taliban is embarrassed by the ISIS-K attacked and getting ready for a civil war. "ISIS-K and the Taliban, which controls Kabul outside of the airport," he wrote, "are sworn enemies with a long history of battling each other. And Thursday's ISIS-K attack, 'with its signature blend of complexity and cruelty,' was widely seen 'as a reminder to both the Americans and the Taliban that, no matter who was in the presidential palace, Afghanistan would remain contested,' the Washington Post reports. The Taliban had reached agreement with the U.S. to 'control security outside of the gates,' retired U.S. Gen. Mark Kimmitt tells BBC News. 'For the Taliban to fail in that mission is an indicator of what's to come.' They are trying to prove to the world they can govern responsibly, he added, 'and if they have failed in this simple mission-- they obviously have been embarrassed heavily.'"


The Guardian's Jason Burke took the next logical journalistic step: if IS is the enemy, does that make the Taliban our friends? "In 2019 and early 2020," he wrote, "a series of Taliban offensives, as well as US and Afghan government operations, devastated ISKP in eastern Afghanistan, reducing its hold on territory to just two small valleys in Kunar, the north-east frontier province. Yet despite several offensives this year, the Taliban have not been unable to evict ISKP’s fighters from these bases. Now that the Taliban no longer have to fight elsewhere, many more forces can be concentrated against them and they may well be eliminated at some stage soon. But, though this would be a significant blow to ISKP, it underlines the dilemma facing the US. The rule in Afghanistan has long been 'my enemy’s enemy is my friend.' This determines the choices of local powerbrokers as the Americans constantly judge who best to support-- for example, which actor is most likely to provide them with the resources they need to maintain their influence-- and who they should fight. But if the enemy of the US is ISKP, does that make the Taliban its friend?"


That ISKP is the enemy of both the US and the Taliban is crystal clear. It derives its ideology from the hardline “Salafi-jidahist” doctrines, influenced by Gulf-style Wahabi strands of Muslim observance and the globalised vision of men such as Osama bin Laden. Its ultimate aim is a caliphate stretching across the Islamic world-- a single “nation of Islam” within which individual nations are dissolved. One of the insults hurled by ISKP members at the Taliban, who they already consider “apostates” for their (relative) moderation and negotiations with the west, is that they are also nationalists.
The Taliban have never hidden their belief in the nation state, though it is undoubtedly often tinted with a degree of ethnic and sectarian chauvinism. Nor have the Taliban ever been linked directly to any terrorist attack beyond Afghanistan’s frontiers. They do not seek to establish a caliphate either. The state they have been fighting for is an “emirate”, a much less ambitious proposal than the unified Islamic superpower sought by IS.
As ISKP has regained strength over the past year, bolstered by a $20m (£15m) donation from the IS leadership in Iraq, its attacks have included an assassination campaign against mid-level Taliban officials. The bombing of Kabul airport was aimed as much at undermining the claim of the new rulers of Afghanistan to a monopoly of violence, as at the US. Unsurprisingly, the people who know most about ISKP on the ground-- who have the names of its commanders, can run down its finance networks or even simply detain the arms dealers from which it has been buying significant amounts of weaponry in recent weeks-- are the Taliban.
...[T]he Taliban have clearly indicated their desire for international recognition, or at least acceptance. Quite how much their leaders are prepared to compromise core beliefs to achieve this is as yet unclear but, in practical terms, cooperation with the US in the battle against a mutual enemy is certainly possible. This might be no more than the secret sharing of intelligence. A Taliban tipoff for a US drone strike on a top ISKP commander would seem a mutually beneficial arrangement, for example. Security officials 7,000 miles away from Kabul would probably leave others to ponder the moral and ethical questions raised by such deals with an abhorrent regime.


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