Facts about rise of ISIS in Afghanistan


In 2014, when ISIS takfiri-terrorist group was rising and gaining ground in some West Asian countries such as Syria and Iraq, militants who later founded its affiliates in the Afghan territories were moving from Pakistan’s northern borders into eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. Not long after this border movement a takfiri group, calling itself ISIS of Afghanistan, announced emergence in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar as well as Khak-e-Sefid district of Farah province close to the common borders with Iran.

As the time went by, the group strengthened its Afghanistan presence. It was crystal clear the main aim of the supporters of these groups, namely the US and Saudi Arabia, was to make up for their losses in the Levant region. The two supporters wanted the terrorists to pose a direct security threat to Iran at first hand and then endanger the Russian interests in Central Asia. After all, it was the Tehran and Moscow’s anti-terror campaign that neutralized a wide range of terrorists in the two hot spots of Syria and Iraq. Now that ISIS is obliterated in the Syrian and Iraqi territories, certainly Afghanistan is one of the places where ISIS will seek a new bastion to inflame new regional chaos and insecurity, though the odds are that not necessarily all of the actors who supported ISIS in the Levant will have its back in Afghanistan.

ISIS in 2014 moved into Iraq and Syria and seized large tracts of land in the two countries, a ground capture campaign that took it close to the Iranian-Iraqi frontiers. Now it seems that part of the aim of the terrorist group’s backers is to expose the Islamic Republic of Iran to rejuvenated terror dangers especially its eastern regions that border Afghanistan. Once ISIS is reproduced in the region, definitely there would be ethno-sectarian struggles, with the same status of destabilization returning to the region. Afghanistan is especially the place where the grounds are ready for the nurturing of radical groups with patronage from the foreign occupiers. After all, the Americans and their regional allies, just contrary to their stated policy of pro-peace efforts, want to put multi-layered pressure on Iran, Russia, and China to some extent.

ISIS terrorists have failed to establish operational presence for themselves in Farah as they faced the obstacle of Taliban with which they clashed and from which they received blows. However, affiliates of ISIS managed to get a toehold in the southern part of Nangarhar as well as near the borders with Pakistan. Now Nangarhar province, and specifically the Achin district which is only 35 kilometers apart from the American military base in Jalalabad city, is ISIS terrorists’ fortress in Afghanistan. From this stronghold, the trained and armed terrorists are sent to other areas of Afghanistan, most importantly Khogyani and Mahmand districts in Nangarhar, and also Maidan Wardak and Logar provinces. Nangarhar, a strategic province by all means, is located in the southeast of the capital Kabul. Close to Jalalabad, the provincial capital, there is an American military base, showingTrump’s policy of counterterrorism is only a political prank.

ISIS’ Afghanistan branch is consisted of Taliban militants as well as the foreign Uzbek, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Chechen, and the Arab nationals who during the years of anti-Soviet combat in the 1980s and after that were settling in the Pakistani tribal areas. In 2014, the Pakistan Armed Forces launched an operation, dubbed as Zarb-e-Azb, in the tribal regions of the country, causing the militants to flee to the southern and northern parts of Afghanistan. Accompanied by their families, the fighters primarily made their way to Achin as the first leg of their journey to the Afghan territories. Over the past years they, however, dispersed to Afghanistan’s northern provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Badghis, and even Badakhshan. Various sources suggested that the terrorists and weapons transfers took place by “unidentified helicopters”.

Over the past year, ISIS elements were transported to the strategic northern Afghanistan areas. It appears that the US and Saudi Arabia are intending to dispatch them to Central Asia for the final aim of putting strains on Russia and then China. So far, ISIS has carried out more than one operation In Afghanistan. It collided with Taliban, and also this year launched bomb attacks on Shiite mosques of Baqir-ul-Ulim, Imam Al-Zaman, and Al-Zahraa in Kabul and Herat, leaving hundreds dead and wounded. Moreover, ISIS expansion in the war-torn country gives Washington and its Western allies good pretext to stay in the region and even expand their military presence which serves their economic interests and their anti-Chinese, Iranian, and Russian pressure schemes.

Now ISIS is present in 13 Afghan provinces and mainly sets up influence in the mountainous northern areas. However, the terror group has failed to cultivate social base in the controlled areas as successfully as Taliban. Essentially, ISIS Afghanistan strategy is not restricted to ground gain. When it seized large swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan was also on the list for the so-called caliphate’s territorial expansion. So, now that ISIS is checkmated in Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan can rise as the prime candidate for the group to reorganize and raise head again. ISIS applies a strict Shiitephobic code to its agenda. That is a strong strive for a set of attacks on the Shiite religious centers, including the mosques. The Sunnis and their mosques came under its assaults, though.

Two ISIS Afghanistan branches

ISIS has two affiliation is Afghanistan. First one is named Aslam Farooqi brigade that has taken its name from Aslam Farooqi, the former leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant group which is closely tied to the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy service, and has its backing. Natives account for a large part of the group’s fighters, and its foreign militants are Pakistani nationals from the country’s Western and Northern Waziristan provinces. Aslam Farooqi’s areas of influence are the Kandahar and Helmand provinces, though sources familiar with the group suggest that it has foothold in Pashtun-inhabited southern and southeastern areas of the country.

The second group is Muawiya that is led by Muawiya al-Uzbekistani, the leader of Tehrik-e-Islami Uzbekistan. Most of the group’s members are Uzbeks and operate under the US and Saudi Arabian cover. This ISIS affiliate has also Chechen, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uyghur, and even Arab members.

Now and after the Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy, in which Pakistan is largely snubbed as a partner, the Pakistani army cracks down on the militants to drive them out of the country’s territories to, on the one hand, pretend to be a good counterterror partner and, on the other hand, move the radicals into the Afghan territories. Islamabad wants to press the Afghan national unity government which does not recognize the Durand demarcation line between Afghanistan and Pakistan and avoids partnership with Islamabad.

The two affiliates are at loggerheads over who leads the Afghan branch of ISIS. The Farooqi group now is focusing on the revival of ISIS after its fatal losses in Syria and Iraq. But the Muawiya group wants influence expansion across Central Asia. Both enjoy support from the US and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is the bankroller of the groups while Washington is responsible for logistics and weapons provision. Various sources, including the Russians, noted that American helicopters were used in ISIS transport missions. The Afghan lawmakers and local officials repeatedly blasted the fighters transfer. The main regional actor behind the emergence of a set of radical-takfiri groups, from al-Qaeda and Taliban and ISIS to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb ut-Tahrir is Saudi Arabia. The number of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan is put at between 3,000 and 7,000.


Unlike ISIS, Taliban hold social base in the predominately Pashtun and tribal communities, and now figures suggest that the militant group holds 45 percent of the country’s territories. The remaining are held by the central government. ISIS is said to have fully seized 15 percent of Taliban-held areas including territories in northern Helmand and Kandahar, with the other areas remaining contested among ISIS, Taliban, and also the Kabul government. The main areas of Taliban influence are southern and southeastern cities and villages, though reports maintain that it has also forces in Badakhshan, Kunduz, Sar-e Pol, and Faryab provinces. The group holds between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. These numbers are subject to modification in different conditions due to the militant group’s social base and the influence of religious motivations on its supporters.

Reason behind ISIS and Taliban clashes

Ideologically and doctrinally, ISIS and Taliban have many bonds, however, they differ on some issues. Here are some of them.

1. ISIS dreams of a universal caliphate with a global geographical range, but Taliban only thinks of rule within the Afghanistan borders. Taliban asserts that it wages against hostility to the neighboring countries.

2. ISIS is anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian, whereas Taliban insists that it only fights the central Afghanistan government which the group calls “US pawn.”

3. ISIS so far declined to say it wages war against the foreign forces in Afghanistan, rather it finds them its sponsors. This is while the top Taliban goal is to push out of the country the foreign occupying forces.

4. ISIS is widely observed as a foreign-crafted and important group in Afghanistan and is devoid of social roots in Afghanistan. On the contrary, Taliban, regardless of its nature, objectives, and functions, is a native movement rose out of the very heart of the Afghan society.

What’s next for ISIS in Afghanistan?

In Syria and Iraq, ISIS was defeated despite the bulky support of its creators the US, Saudi Arabia, and the Israeli regime. The triumphs against ISIS came thanks to a serious regional alliance gathering together Baghdad and Damascus with their supporters. But in Afghanistan, the US and NATO are reluctant to combat the emerging terrorist group. Rather, the Americans very tactically facilitated ISIS infiltration into Afghanistan and keep having its back to date. Some factions of the Afghan government institutions, consciously or unconsciously, are contributing to this American-sponsored terror expansion, while others are empty-handed and so unable to counteract. As long as this situation is dominating Afghanistan, ISIS will stay alive and carry out terror attacks. For the US and West, Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabism, the same ideology that fed ISIS, are proponents of the US policy. This is why ISIS never pointed its finger at the American forces as a hostile party. This notion yields the conclusion that ISIS will keep receiving the American and allies’ favor, and thus the Afghanistan insecurity will continue for the upcoming years.


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