KHOGYANI: The self-styled Islamic State (IS) group had ambitious plans for Afghanistan, but Taliban resistance, US drone strikes, and a society less scarred by sectarianism mean the extremists have so far failed to repeat their Middle Eastern breakthrough.
The terrorist group, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, has been trying for months to establish itself in Afghanistan’s eastern areas, challenging the Taliban on their own turf.
Its franchise in the war-torn country has managed to recruit disaffected Taliban fighters, as the fractious Afghan militant movement wrestles with a bitter power transition. But the loss of senior commanders in drone strikes and the group’s signature brutality, which repels many Afghans, has helped stem its advance.
Frequent clashes and gunfights with Taliban militants have also hampered its bid to capture significant territory.
“In Iraq and Syria, you might say (IS) are in stage six or seven or eight,” top US military officer General Martin Dempsey said last month. “In Libya, they are in stage three or four, and in Afghanistan they are in stage one or two.”
His views are echoed by other Nato officials who say that IS in Afghanistan is not yet capable of carrying out the sort of coordinated operations they are conducting in Iraq and Syria, although the potential exists for them to evolve into a bigger threat.
Some Taliban militants, particularly in the restive eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, have adopted the IS flag to rebrand themselves as a more lethal force as Nato troops depart after 14 years of war.
The risk of defections grew after the July announcement of Mullah Omar’s demise, with many angry Taliban fighters accusing the leadership of covering up the supremo’s death for two years.
Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, said IS “is flavour of the month right now. It has a dramatic appeal to a lot of alienated militants”.
But the Taliban are attempting to counter that, with an aggressive drive north from their southern and eastern strongholds, as well as a wave of fatal bombings in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Experts say the escalating violence demonstrates new Taliban chief Mullah Mansour’s bid to boost his image within the Taliban, which could halt the defections to IS.
“The Taliban remain a formidable fighting force. It’s in a position to fight back and push back against IS inroads,” Kugelman said. “The Taliban has been able to keep IS at bay in eastern Afghanistan.”
US drone strikes in recent weeks have also dealt a significant blow to IS in Afghanistan, killing dozens of suspected cadres, including the group’s regional chief Hafiz Saeed. —AFP
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2015