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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 18-Jul-2018
18-Jul-18 World View -- Fighting between Taliban and ISIS-K escalates in Afghanistan

Web Log - July, 2018

18-Jul-18 World View -- Fighting between Taliban and ISIS-K escalates in Afghanistan

ISIS-K claims credit for killing 15 Taliban, including commander

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

ISIS-K claims credit for killing 15 Taliban, including commander

Afghan Taliban militants (AFP)
Afghan Taliban militants (AFP)

"ISIS Khorasan" (ISIS-K, "Wilayah Khorasan"), the Afghanistan branch of ISIS, is claiming credit for attacking the house of a Taliban commander in the eastern province of Nangarhar of Afghanistan, killing 15 Taliban militants, including the commander, known as Saba Gul or Mohammad Khorasani.

Fighting between the Taliban and ISIS-K has significantly escalated in recent weeks, as the vie for control of the country's east, along the border with Pakistan. In June, ISIS-K claimed the killing of 25 people with a suicide bombing at a gathering of Taliban members and local people in Nangarhar province during the three-day Eid ceasefire.

The Taliban launched offensives in the region late in June, claiming that they had cleared out bases of ISIS-K fighters in nearby villages. Dozens of fighters on both sides were killed, as hundreds of civilians were forced to flee the fighting between the two groups, as the clashes carried on for several days.

One unnamed ISIS fighter was quoted as saying:

"Yes the war between the Afghan Taliban and Islamic State branch in Khorasan has escalated. More attacks and more casualties, but in war there are casualties. [The Taliban] are not able to get firm control over [the areas they recapture] because soon they will be repelled back by the fighters of Islamic State."

The Taliban in the past have been reluctant to publicize their clashes with ISIS, believing it risks exaggerating the power of the group. But that's changing now, as ISIS-K becomes more prominent. An unnamed Taliban source says:

"The Taliban hit ISIS fighters hard and finished their presence in Laghman, while ISIS fighters were also killed in Kunar and Nangarhar. The Taliban will deal with them with an iron hand in future because they are exceeding their activities in the region. ...

ISIS has presented a negative image of Islam and created an environment of fear among the Muslims.

[ISIS attacked the Taliban] under the pretext of Islamic Shariah law and calling Taliban apostates thus creating confusion among the locals and other supporters of Afghan Taliban. In this way they are paving the way for the US and allied forces to create cracks in the unity of the Afghan Taliban, but so far they failed."

The Taliban claim that ISIS fighters are distracting the Taliban from completing their mission -- to defeat the US-led coalition. Reuters and The National (UAE)

Fighting between Taliban and ISIS-K escalates in Afghanistan

The Afghan government estimates that there are as many as 3,000 foreign fighters in ISIS-K in Afghanistan, many of them coming from Pakistan and Uzbekistan. However, accurate estimates are difficult because the Taliban and other militant groups are fluid, and members often move from one group to another.

ISIS-K fighters began appearing in Afghanistan in 2015, when ISIS in Syria and Iraq was considered highly stylish and fashionable among the atrocity-committing set. Many Taliban militants switched allegiance to ISIS because it was a better brand name, newer and more exciting. They were joined by foreign fighters from Uzbekistan and other countries. Starting in 2016, especially as ISIS came under attack in Iraq and Syria, foreign fighters who had gone to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad began to return to other countries, including Afghanistan, to continue the fight.

It's not believed that there was ever much communication between ISIS-K and ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria, as the relationship is more like a shared brand name. To some extent, there is a parallel between Syria and Afghanistan, as local militants in the two countries join al-Qaeda and the Taliban, respectively, while foreign fighters join ISIS.

In both cases, the local and ISIS militants have conflicting objectives. Generally speaking, the local militants have purely local nationalist objectives, while the ISIS militants have the objective of establishing a multinational caliphate.

In Syria, the local militant group is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and they spent years fighting alongside moderate rebels to defeat Bashar al-Assad. ISIS, on the other hand, established a caliphate in Raqqa and took control of as much territory as possible, in Syria and Iraq. Bashar al-Assad and its principal backers in Russia and Iran indirectly supported ISIS by not targeting them, because ISIS was fighting the moderate rebels who were also al-Assad's enemies. It was left to the American forces, backing the Kurds and Iraqis, to finally expel ISIS from Raqqa and Mosul, and that fight is still going on.

In Afghanistan, the situation is similar. The Taliban are radicalized ethnic Pashtuns, fighting against their old enemies from the 1990s civil war, the Northern Alliance of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. ISIS-K are foreign fighters and disaffected Taliban fighters who have pledged allegiance to ISIS in the name of the great multinational caliphate fantasy. The Taliban, on the other hand, have set as their primary objective forcing the US-led coalition to withdraw.

In terms of theology, ISIS considers the local nationalists to be apostates, mainly because they make alliances with other ISIS enemies, such as Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. However, ISIS saves its strongest vitriol for the Shia Muslims, as in this statement from January 2016:

"Initiated by a sly Jew, [the Shia] are an apostate sect drowning in worship of the dead, cursing the best companions and wives of the Prophet, spreading doubt on the very basis of the religion (the Koran and the Sunnah), defaming the very honor of the Prophet , and preferring their “twelve” imams to the prophets and even to Allah! ... Thus, the Rafidah [another word for Shias] are mushrik [polytheist] apostates who must be killed wherever they are to be found, until no Rafidi walks on the face of earth, even if the jihad claimants despise such."

In Afghanistan, many analysts believe that ISIS poses a greater threat today than the Taliban. There have been big spikes in terrorist violence in the last few months, and this is attributed to a competition between the two groups.

The strongest fighting force within the Taliban is the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for the most audacious attacks in Kabul. The Haqqani network has historical ties to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency. VOA (18-Nov-2017) and Washington Post (21-Mar-2018) and The Diplomat (29-Jan-2016) and Military Times

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(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 18-Jul-18 World View -- Fighting between Taliban and ISIS-K escalates in Afghanistan thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (18-Jul-2018) Permanent Link
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