Why is Islamic State a threat in Afghanistan despite Taliban rule?
On Wednesday, Britain warned its citizens to stay away from the Kabul airport, urging them to leave Afghanistan by other means if possible.
Amid growing warnings of terror threats targeting the Kabul airport, several countries have decided to end their evacuation operation ahead of the August 31 deadline for a complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops. On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert to Americans to stay away from three airport gates.
According to a CNN report, there was "a very specific threat stream" from the Afghan affiliates of the Islamic State against crowds outside the Kabul airport. Senior US officials have reportedly said that the warnings issued by the embassy were related to ongoing threats involving the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan and potential vehicle bombs targeting crowds in and around the Kabul airport.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians,” US President Biden had also acknowledged the threat at a White House briefing.
Late Wednesday, Britain also warned its citizens to stay away from the Kabul airport, urging them to leave Afghanistan by other means if possible. UK’s armed forces minister James Heappey told Times Radio that the threat against the Hamid Karzai International Airport is "very serious" and "imminent".
"Reporting over the week has become ever more credible. And it is of an imminent and severe threat to life," Heappey said.
While the Taliban has assured security to Afghans and foreign embassies from their end, they have acknowledged a risk of "nuisances" causing trouble.
What is ISIS-K?
In 2015, terrorists from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) joined militants in Afghanistan and pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The suffix ‘Khorasan’ was taken after the historical name for the region which constitutes parts of present-day Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia. The group is notorious for some of the deadliest terror attacks in recent years, targeting mosques, shrines, and even hospitals. In 2020, the terrorists of ISIS-K were responsible for the attacks on a maternity ward run by Doctors Without Border (MSF).
How is the ISIS-K relationship with the Taliban?
While both groups are hardline Sunni Islamist militants and claim to be the true flag-bearers of jihad, they are sworn enemies who differ on minute details of religion and strategy. The leaders of ISIS-K rejected the deal between the Taliban and the United States signed in Doha last year. After Kabul fell to the Taliban, the Islamic State didn’t congratulate the insurgents, unlike other jihadist groups.
According to a report by the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, the strength of ISIS-K could be anywhere between 500 to 10,000. The report suggests that ISIS-K has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul and has formed sleeper cells in many Afghan provinces, including Nuristan, Badghis, Sari Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan, and Kunduz.
(With inputs from agencies)