As American combat forces withdrew from Afghanistan after more than 13 years of war, they left behind an ill-prepared Afghan government and a power vacuum. The Taliban’s campaign of violence south of the border in Pakistan signaled to most that it was prepared to fill it, but few expected that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would also make a play for influence in Afghanistan. The audacious terrorist proto-state is, however, doing just that.
“The sources, including an Afghan general and a provincial governor, said a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf was actively recruiting fighters for the group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq,” CBS News reported on Tuesday.
According to this report, Rauf was a Taliban commander from 1996 until 2001 and was captured by coalition forces and detained in Guantanamo Bay. After his release in 2007, Rauf might have had a falling out with Taliban commanders and joined the ranks of ISIS.
For what it’s worth, security analysts familiar with the region do not seem to be worried about ISIS’s attempt to expand its theater of operations into Afghanistan.
But Akundzada said ISIS was not likely to gain traction with ordinary Afghans. “People who want to fight in Afghanistan just create new names – one day they are wearing white clothes (of the Taliban) and the next day they have black clothes and call themselves Daesh, but they are the same people,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Analysts say most claims of allegiance to ISIS in Afghanistan have been motivated by opportunism and that a new jihadist outfit would find it difficult to establish a presence where there are already long-established militant groups with tribal links. The Taliban have confined their insurgency to Afghanistan, and do not espouse the pan-Islamic model of jihad embraced by ISIS.
Parts of Helmand have seen fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces since U.S. troops pulled out more than six months ago.
And the fact that Rauf is operating out of Helmand province should be troubling. In late December, The New York Times noted that 2014 was the deadliest year for Afghan police and civilians since the start of the Afghan War. Much of that renewed violence was centered in Helmand.
Just this week, an Afghan police officer loyal to the Taliban shot and killed his commanding officer and a district governor in that restive province before turning the gun on himself. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
While the spread of ISIS to Afghanistan is troubling, it is probably a development of only limited significance. The accelerated tempo of violent attacks by anti-Western forces in Afghanistan is, however, a source of continued consternation for Americans who fought for that country’s liberation.