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IS-K, the terror group behind Kabul attack & Taliban enemy that could add to Afghanistan chaos

At least 90 Afghans have been killed in bombings at Kabul airport Thursday evening. Attack comes amid turmoil in the country, a consequence of the Taliban reclaiming Afghanistan.

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New Delhi: Afghanistan’s capital Kabul was rocked by suicide bomb blasts outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport Thursday evening, killing at least 90 Afghan civilians and 13 United States soldiers.

According to various media reports, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP or IS-K) carried out the bombings.

The attack comes amid the turmoil and chaos in the country, a consequence of the Taliban reclaiming Afghanistan in the wake of the US pulling its troops out of the country and ending a 20-year war.

While the new Taliban regime takes shape, Afghans and US allies have been thronging the airport to find passage out of the country before 31 August, the deadline for the US to completely withdraw from Afghanistan.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Pentagon confirmed the IS-K as the bombers. US President Joe Biden said the US will retaliate while ruling out any involvement of the Taliban in the attacks.

Thursday’s attack isn’t the first to be linked to the IS-K; last March’s attack on a gurdwara in Kabul was claimed by the outfit. In August 2019, it claimed an attack at a wedding in Kabul, which killed 63 people.

But who are the IS-K? ThePrint explains.

Also read: In Afghanistan, a new ‘great game’ with ISIS, ISK and Pakistan is on with a vengeance

Khorasan, a name with history

The Islamic State in Khorasan Province or Daesh-Khorasan is the Afghanistan-based affiliate of the fundamentalist militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group attracted international attention after it captured Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.

According to academics Amira Jadoon and Andrew Mines, the outfit has been working to “establish a beachhead for the Islamic State movement to expand its so-called caliphate to Central and South Asia”.

Founded in 2015, the terror group become active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A public announcement by ISIS that year had named former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hafiz Saeed Khan as the emir of Khorasan province. However, the United States did not designate it as a terrorist organisation until a year later, in January 2016.

Interestingly, no province named Khorasan currently exists in Afghanistan. The name historically refers to parts of northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan which came under the territory of the medieval Sassanid Empire, according to a Washington Post report.

“Over the years, the Khorasan region had a fractious history, and was eventually swallowed up by a variety of different states,” the report said.

However, due its significance in the early days of Islamic imperial history, as a part of the Umayyad Caliphate, many modern-day terrorist groups reference Khorasan in their group names, it added.

Also read: Why ISIS bombed Kabul wedding and how it’s eyeing the Afghan peace talks

Butting heads with Taliban

The IS-K emerged following the decline of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It has since been engaged in a protracted conflict with the Taliban, throughout its six-and-a-half year history.

Detailed reporting by the Wall Street Journal revealed that amid IS-K’s growth in popularity through the support of “disaffected Taliban” members and foreign militants, its ambitious global goals were fundamentally inconsistent with the Taliban’s nationalist goals of rising to power within Afghanistan only. As such, the Taliban viewed IS-K as an “impediment”, the Journal said.

“Similar to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the group in Afghanistan became infamous for grisly execution videos, attacks on civilian targets, and use of extreme violence against newly conquered locals who opposed their rule,” the report said.

It further elaborated on a months-long conflict in Jowzjan in 2017, in which the US, the Afghan military as well as the Taliban all fought against and defeated IS-K forces.

Despite the power imbalance between the two militant outfits, the IS-K remained on the minds of the Taliban leadership, who blamed it for a terrorist attack at a school in Kabul in May this year, which killed at least 85 people.

IS-K also reportedly focused its propaganda against the Taliban in the days prior to Thursday’s Kabul airport explosions, by labelling the Taliban’s swift takeover as a “US-backed conspiracy”, The Telegraph reported.

As such, according to NPR, the terror group’s latest attacks have revealed significant failings in the Taliban’s ability to maintain peace and security as they set up their second regime.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Why ISKP, the group behind Kabul gurdwara attack, is threat to India and Indians abroad


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