Afghanistan: one year after the fall of Kabul, the Islamic State organization in ambush

Since the departure of the Americans, the regional branch of the Islamic State organization has continued its work of destabilizing Afghanistan, trying to thrive on the humanitarian crisis, ethnic tensions and internal divisions within the Taliban.

While the Taliban can claim to have defeated the Islamic State organization in Khorasan, the Afghan branch of IS, the jihadist group has been telling stories of its insurgent power for a year, carrying out deadly attacks mainly against civilians in the population or religious leaders. is multiplied. ,

The latest dates back to Thursday, August 11, which coincides with the assassination of Rahimullah Haqqani, a senior Taliban cleric known for his fiery speeches against the Islamic State organization in Khorasan. He recently spoke out in favor of the schooling of young Afghan women.

A few days earlier, the terrorist group had claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in the Shiite district of Kabul which left eight dead and 18 injured. The attack targeted the Hazara community, a minority which represents between 10 and 20% of the 40 million Afghans, long persecuted in this country with a Sunni majority.

Although armed violence has generally decreased since the fall of the previous government, bloody attacks attributed or claimed by IS-K are regularly deplored in the country, undermining the promise of the Taliban to the population and the international community. The order was made for a quick return. Afghanistan.

“More freedom of action”

More than 700 people were killed and 1,400 injured in attacks targeting minority ethnic and religious communities in the country between August 2021 and June 2022, according to a count by UNAMA, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.

In this long trial of jihadist attacks, the suicide attack of August 26, 2021 against Kabul airport remains the deadliest. That day, amid the chaos caused by the Taliban’s lightning strike on the capital, a suicide bomber managed to blow himself up near the entrance and then opened fire with guns, killing 185 people, including 13 American soldiers. were involved.

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Established in Afghanistan since 2015, particularly in the provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar near the Pakistani border, the Islamic State of Khorasan organization was founded by Afghan and Pakistani Taliban cadres who pledged allegiance to the former head of the organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Had promised. ,

But the Afghan branch of the IS has suffered the effects of a double hunt against its fighters by the former Afghan government supported by the United States and the Taliban themselves.

For a year, the jihadist group has experienced a resurgence of activity, particularly in the northeast and east of the country and represents the main security challenge for the new masters of Kabul. “We can’t say that the OEI-K has gotten stronger, but the group has more freedom of action since the Americans left,” said French 24 journalist Wasim Nasr, a specialist in jihadist movements. “While the Taliban have succeeded in countering Daesh in insurgency mode, the fight against terrorism in urban areas is another matter and we see that they have more difficulties in this area”.

causing caste divisions

With approximately 2,000 men before the departure of the Americans, according to the United Nations, it is today impossible to assess the strength of OEI-K, whose “hard core is made up of asocial and poorly educated young people from the areas rural areas,” according to Mariam Benrad, professor of international relations at Schiller International University and author of “Terrorism: The Agony of Vengeance” (ed. Cavalier Blue).

To gain new followers, the terror group exploits ethnic divides in its propaganda and targets communities that may have felt marginalized by the Taliban’s rise to power, such as the Tajiks, the country’s second largest ethnic group. group that represents about a quarter of the population. ,

“While the Pashtuns were in power in Kabul and believed they were under the protection of the Taliban, Daesh presented itself as the force to which the Tajiks could turn,” said Didier, associate researcher at the French Institute for the Study of Central Asia (IFEAC). Warmer assured.)

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The jihadist group is also trying to gain strength by recruiting foreign fighters from Central Asia, but also the most radical members of the Haqqani family and tribal network, closely linked to Al-Qaeda but part of the Taliban.

In general, the IS-K seeks to take advantage of the internal divisions within the Taliban, divided between pure and hard ideologues hostile to any agreement with the West, and to make concessions to establish the international credibility of their government. are ready for. “There are many Taliban who are not convinced that the movement rejects the logic of global jihad and who are deeply influenced by the declaration of the Islamic State,” said Maryam Benrad.

“What we miss is if these discouraged Taliban start to come out of the ranks of the IS”, specifies Wasim Nasr. “Especially when the Taliban generally stay true to themselves. The only thing they have compromised on is Shiite security. It is at this stage that the OII insists on showing in its propaganda that the Taliban are “false Muslims”.

dream of a new caliphate

Despite its strong power of subversion and its ability to carry out actions of spectacular violence, the OEI-K has not succeeded in restructuring a regional base in Afghanistan. “OEI-K operates in a terrorist mode, but has never managed to restructure an area, which is a real indicator,” explains Wasim Nasr.

“They did not control the eastern provinces well enough to be able to establish power there, as we have seen in Iraq or Syria. Moreover, the mass killings of civilians made them very unpopular with the Afghan population. confirms Miriam Benrad.

Nevertheless, IS-K finds fertile ground for its development in Afghanistan in the years to come: a country fractured by ethnic tensions, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and a deteriorating security situation.

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“If the pressure of economic and social problems leads to the collapse of Taliban power, the more radical forces could join the Islamic State in Khorasan. The worst that can happen in the years to come is the regional revival of Daesh and this is one of the objectives of the organization, ”assured Didier Chaudette. “The main threat to the security of Afghanistan, its neighbors and the international community is neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda, but the Islamic State organization in Khorasan.”

In order to prevent the establishment of a terrorist sanctuary on their doorstep, regional powers are closely monitoring developments and have sought to maintain good relations with the Taliban since their return to power. In October 2021, Moscow notably hosted a major international conference – in which a dozen countries took part, including China, Iran and Pakistan – an initiative aimed at integrating the Taliban into the diplomatic game in parallel with the Doha discussions with United States. .

In the eyes of the international community, the Taliban appear as a lesser evil to undermine the desire for hegemony of the IS-K. “It’s a negotiation card for the Taliban”, analyzes Maryam Benrad. “However, there are significant doubts about the real ties that unite the jihadist groups with the most radical fringe of the Taliban favorable to global jihad”, as the presence of the leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri reminds us. The heart of the Afghan capital, killed in an American drone strike at the end of July.