A string of assassinations in Afghanistan point to ISIS-K resurgence – and US officials warn of possible attacks on American interests in next 6 months
Published in Political News
Since returning to power in Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban have struggled to contain the Islamic State Khorasan province, or ISIS-K – the official Islamic State group affiliate operating in Afghanistan.
Now, a fresh wave of assassination attempts on top Taliban officials has rocked multiple regions across the country and prompted fears of the group’s potential to attack targets outside Afghanistan, including U.S. and Western interests.
On March 9, 2023, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, the Taliban governor of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, along with two others. One day earlier, the group’s fighters carried out a targeted killing against the head of the water supply department in Afghanistan’s western Herat province. And most recently, on March 15, the group claimed a failed attack on a Taliban district governor in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a former ISIS-K stronghold.
ISIS-K seeks to advance the Islamic State group’s goal of creating a global caliphate based on its own interpretation of Islamic law.
As scholars who have studied ISIS-K for years, we know that the recent attacks are only a few in a long line of attacks the group has carried out or attempted in Afghanistan since forming in 2015.
ISIS-K has tried – often successfully – to kill government and military officials, media influencers, religious leaders and other civil society figures. The group is also responsible for the bombing that left 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans dead in August 2021, following the collapse of the former government and the U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Some of ISIS-K’s ambitious plots have failed. Notable examples include claimed attempts against NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2017, former Afghanistan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum in 2018, former Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani in 2020 and former U.S. diplomat in Kabul Ross Wilson in 2021.
Despite both being Islamist organizations, ISIS-K and the Taliban are strategic rivals locked in a battle that has persisted since ISIS-K’s inception. Targeted assassinations of Taliban security and political officials, across multiple ranks and levels, have been a consistent feature of ISIS-K’s resurgence. The recent killings are simply a continuation of the group’s attack priorities.
Assassinations are a fundamental pillar of the Islamic State group’s insurgency doctrine, which is adopted by its affiliates and serves multiple purposes.
For one, they’re a way to retaliate against heavy losses. Just days before the latest string of attacks, ISIS-K threatened to amplify its violence after Taliban raids in January and February killed key Islamic State leaders and attack planners.