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Isis-K Who Are They and Why Haven’t We Heard About Them Until Recently?

When he's not writing poetry or political articles, Ralph fills his time by researching various topics that are influencing society today.


The group known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) took credit for the recent suicide bombing at the Kabul, Afghanistan airport on August 26th, 2021. The explosion caused mass casualties, which included U.S. Military personnel. The current death toll is 11 U.S. Marines, 1 U.S. Army soldier, and 1 U.S. Navy Medic. Reports from Pentagon officials initially indicated the attack was two suicide bombers, but that was later retracted. The attack marks the third-deadliest single day for American forces in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Additionally, 3 British citizens, and 170 Afghans were killed and 200 were wounded.

Many saw an attack imminent as American forces worked overtime to evacuate American citizens and friendly Afghans from the country before the August 31st red line. Yet, many people have never heard of this terrorist group as they have only been active in the eastern region of Afghanistan. Looking through news reports over the past six years, we have learned that ISIS-K is responsible for more than 100 attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout 2017 and 2018. They’ve also been partially involved in skirmishes with Afghan military, U.S. Military and Pakistani security forces during that same time-period. Some of the notable attacks the group claimed responsibility for took place last year and include firing rockets into the Afghan Presidential Place, an attack on Kubal University, and an attack at Hamid Karzai International airport.


ISIS-K - We Know Just Enough To Know They Are Our Enemies

ISIS-K is an affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS), which attempted to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria which was destroyed during the Trump administration. While ISIS was engaged in heavy fighting in both Iraq and Syria during 2015, ISIS-K emerged as a subgroup. The group's name comes from the local term for the area that includes Eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan: "Khorasan." ISIS-K was originally led by Hafiz Saeed Khan, a Pakistani national, with Abdul Rauf Aliza as the chief deputy. Aliza was a former member of the Taliban. Neither of the original leaders survived long. Aliza was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2015, and Khan was killed in a separate airstrike in 2016. The group is currently being led by Shahab al-Muhajir.

The United Nations reported in June that this group has a current strength of no more than 2,200 fighters, divided into smaller operating cells throughout Eastern Afghanistan. Their membership is quite diverse and includes Pakistanis, Pashtuns (Afghans), other Arabs, and South Asians. In the early part of this year, the group has increased their attacks by nearly three-fold with 77 being reported in the 1st quarter alone.

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Although their ideologies are quite similar, ISIS-K and the Taliban are not allied. The two groups regularly clash and some believe they are in competition with the Taliban for control of Afghanistan. With small numbers that isn’t likely in the near-future, but there is a strong possibility that they may try to carve out a portion of Eastern Afghanistan to call their own. For the moment they appear to be a spoiler group that tries to embarrass the Taliban and keep them from achieving functional control of the country. With the Biden administration pulling all U.S. Military forces out of the country, we can expect to see more violence and uncertainty between the two factions.

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