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The Taliban vs ISIS

ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for an attack at Kabul airport on Thursday 8/26/21. The attack has killed more than 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members. The next day, the U.S. killed two ISIS-K targets involved in the airport attack, with a drone strike. ISIS-K has conducted 77 attacks in Afghanistan within the first four months of 2021.

The Taliban and ISIS are Sunni Islamist extremist groups seeking to establish authoritarian states under strict Sharia law. They have fought since 2015, when ISIS formed the Islamic State-Khorasan Province in Afghanistan.

Formed mainly by mujahideen resistance fighters who battled Soviet Union occupation in the 1980s, the Taliban first appeared during the Afghan Civil War in 1994. Originating in the Pashtun region of eastern and southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, they are a Deobandi fundamentalist Islamist movement.

The Taliban were led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and began their campaign by conquering the province of Herat. They had the whole country by September 1996, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and making Kandahar the capital. During their rule, they massacred their opponents, denied UN food supplies to their starving citizens, and oppressed their women.

Their rule was brought to an abrupt end by US-led coalition forces in December of 2001. This was in retaliation to Osama Bin Laden’s devastating al-Qaeda terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

ISIS was formed by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999. In 2014, they drove government forces out of key cities in western Iraq and declared itself a worldwide caliphate after capturing Mosul. Later they conquered swathes of eastern Syria including the city of Raqqa.

However, they ultimately surrendered Mosul and Raqqa in 2017 to Iraqi government forces and Syrian anti-ISIS fighters, which were backed by international military support and air power. By 2019, the “caliphate” had fallen. In 2020 and 2021, ISIS initiated campaigns in Nigeria and Mozambique.

The ISKP was established in the Nangarhar Province of eastern Afghanistan in January 2015, which actively recruited defectors from the Taliban. According to the Centre for Strategic Studies, they boasted around 800 fighters in October 2018, which peaked in 2016 with up to 4,000 militant members.

Initial conflicts between the Taliban and ISIS broke out within the Zabul province in June of 2015. More fighting erupted in April of 2017 when ISKP captured three drug dealers selling opium to raise funds for the Taliban in Jowzjan province. And again in May 2017 when 22 militants were killed in clashes along the Iranian border.

The Taliban launched an offensive to eradicate ISKP from Jowzjan the following summer, with the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan aiding ISIS. That conflict saw ISKP defeated, and along with further setbacks in skirmishes the following year, was almost entirely eradicated by the US and the Afghan military in late 2019.

Taliban leaders say they are committed to preventing ISIS from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, “We assure you that we will not let ISIS to become active in the country, in the areas under our control. As for the presence of terrorists from other countries, I completely deny this. There are no terrorists from Central Asia or China in the country. We will prevent them from entering the country.”

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan war zone. The Council for Foreign Relations estimates that there are 2,200 members of ISKP still active in Afghanistan.

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