ISIS-K: What to know about the Taliban rival who threatens to evacuate Afghanistan

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The United States has fought the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Haqqani insurgent groups in Afghanistan for the past two decades, but anti-terrorism experts warn that the threat posed by ISIS-K could prove catastrophic.

What is ISIS-K?

ISIS-K: What to know about the Taliban rival who threatens to evacuate Afghanistan
ISIS-K: What to know about the Taliban rival who threatens to evacuate Afghanistan

The group referred to as ISISK is the “Khorasan” branch of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

In October 2014, an insurgent group was formed in Iraq and Syria after a faction within the Taliban split and surrendered to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

By 2015, OffShoot ISIS-K was officially recognized as a terrorist organization, Catherine Zimmerman, Fellow in Foreign and Defense Policy for the American Enterprise Institute, told GTM News.

Zimmerman explained that the group had a more rigorous focus on the interpretation of Islam than the Taliban and had established an anti-dynamic between the two terrorist organizations.

“They defined their enemies differently,” she says. “The Islamic State sees anyone who does not accept its vision as an enemy – including the Taliban, including Shiites and the West,” Zimmerman added.

Why are they a threat in Afghanistan?

Since the collapse of Afghanistan with the Taliban’s occupation, thousands of people have arrived at the airport in earnest trying to flee the country.

The Taliban also began firing heavily, firing weapons into the air and barring people from accessing the airport in an attempt to control large crowds outside the airport gates.

Zimmerman, a counter-terrorism specialist, argued that the biggest threat for thousands of people fleeing ISIS was not from the Taliban, but from ISIS-K.

“Opportunity is the goal,” Zimmerman said. “The Islamic State has been able to exploit soft targets in other similar situations.

“And the group around Kabul airport aims to know exactly what they think are legitimate victims – Afghans who are trying to flee to the United States or the West, who are not willing to live according to Sharia law, they are cooperating with the United States,” she added.

The complexity faced by Zimmerman’s intelligence and security personnel is that they go into a group of suicide bombers and try to stop the danger of detonating explosives.

But the defense specialist suggested that only Afghan civilians were at risk.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that securing a U.S. mission airport in Afghanistan means that the first line of defense comes from the first Taliban checkpoint.

The first point of safety is that a person is able to overtake the crowd when walking – we see a lot of pictures – of a gate posted by U.S. soldiers and the real challenge here is a suicide bomber.”

According to her, “the probability of mass casualties has increased significantly.”

How does ISIS-K affect Americans?

Michael Present, a former intelligence officer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told GTM News that the threat posed by terrorist organizations in Afghanistan went beyond the need to disperse large airport groups.

The counter-insurgency expert argued that reports that the Taliban had blocked Kabul airport and exit the country were a sign that thousands were leaving.

“There are currently an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 Americans left. We’ve made 4,400 out,” Present said. “We’re going to put Americans behind and worse.”

The former U.S. Central Command analyst said he was communicating with contacts in Afghanistan that represent a far worse threat than blocking access to the airport.

“The Taliban do not recognize dual citizenship. If you are an Afghan-American, you are an Afghan, you are a traitor, and you will not be allowed to go,” he added.

Present said his greatest concern was to target Americans and Afghan allies not only through the Taliban and Al Qaeda but also ISIS-K members who could set an example from them.

“I think we’re going to put an American wind on the knees with an ISIS flag behind them on the video camera,” he said.

“Being an American is the death penalty in Afghanistan. Being an Afghan with a US passport is the death penalty,” he said.

Is ISIS-K the biggest threat in Afghanistan?

Present argues that ISIS-K is not the biggest threat building in Afghanistan. He said the biggest threat was the security risk posed by the pinnacle of terrorist organizations.

Although the Taliban’s long ties with al Qaeda have given the Taliban assurances to the international community, those ties have proven difficult to intensify.

Present said Afghanistan has the potential to become a training ground for jihadi terrorists using the American tactics they have learned through their long U.S. presence.

“The Taliban are loyal to Al Qaeda,” he said. “They have not pledged allegiance to ISIS-K, but will not suspend hostilities and make America bleed.”

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