Analysis: Is ISIS returning or being returned to Afghanistan?
Anatoly Sidorov, chief of staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, recently stated that the Afghan branch of ISIS terrorist group is strengthening its position and thus posing major threat to the Central Asian security.
Publish date : 3/4/2021

Along with the ongoing Afghan peace talks between the government and the Taliban, other developments are taking shape in the war-torn country.

Anatoly Sidorov, chief of staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, recently stated that the Afghan branch of ISIS terrorist group is strengthening its position and thus posing major threat to the Central Asian security.

"Consolidating the position of the" Khorasan" branch of ISIS in Afghanistan, which has around 4,000 members, threatens the security of the region," the Russian general said. According to him, members of this terrorist group are working in the eastern and northern provinces of Afghanistan to take control of the border areas with Tajikistan and Pakistan in order to establish bases there and be able to threaten Central Asian states in the future.

Where does ISIS focus in Afghanistan?

The areas of focus of the terrorist group in Afghanistan are the east and north.

Reports say that the border towns of Badakhshan province in northeast Afghanistan which border Tajikistan are turning into new concentration points of foreign terrorists from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, and Eastern Turkistan, concerning the Russian leaders.

Badakhshan has become a base and a gateway for foreign terrorists to Central Asia, the Kabul-based Neshanah news agency recently reported. The report said that about 600 foreign fighters from China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and the Caucasus were fighting alongside Taliban fighters in the province against Afghan security forces and trying to extend their battle geography to Central Asia and even Russia and China. The report said that some of these fighters were present in Jaram and Varduj towns. Others are in Nasi, Mayami, and Raghestan. Beside fighting the Afghan forces, the fighters in Raghestan mine gold, the report claimed.

"Four terrorist groups, including Jamaat Ansarullah, the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, which have links to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, operate alongside Taliban fighters in Badakhshan," the report suggested, adding: Jamaat Ansarullah is on Tajikistan terror blacklist as it has links to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Neshanah holds that regions beyond Afghanistan is the target of the foreign terrorists concentrations in Badakhshan."They intend to liberate occupied territories, implement sharia law, and and develop Islamic caliphate and these goals motivate them to build corridors to Central Asian countries, Russia, and China," the news agency claimed.

An audiotape, recorded and released by Tajikistan's Ansarullah group in Badakhshan is said to contain propaganda messages introducing the group by its members, indicates the goals to expand battle range of the group.

The tape, released first time on August 10 last year, says that Jamaat comprises of Tajik Muslim youths and struggles to "liberate Tajikistan from the Russian occupation, implement sharia law, and revive the Islamic caliphate."

Various pieces of evidence show that the ISIS seeks to unite under its flag all of these militant groups. It is easily recruiting from them.

Another report published by the Associated Press says members of the ISIS have gathered in the impassable mountains of northeastern Afghanistan and are expanding territory and recruiting fighters. Ajmal Omar, a member of the Nangarhar Provincial Council, said that ISIS "is not over" and that with its recent recruitment, it is trying to build presence in other Afghanistan districts.

The AP also reported that ISIS is fighting in a number of towns in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces. The fighting has displaced hundreds of families, according to the news agency.

The terrorist group has been active in Nangarhar province and some northern and southern provinces of Afghanistan for several years. Nangarhar has also been one of the group's main centers of activity in recent years, prompting government security forces to conduct operations in there.

However, as a result of security forces' operations, ISIS activity in eastern Afghanistan declined. But it is not gone. It chose Nangarhar as the capital of its Central Asian branch from the very beginning and established strongholds in the province.

Why did ISIS return to Afghanistan?

ISIS attacks in Afghanistan were opened by taking hostages 31 civilians from Hazara ethnic minority in 2014. The hostage taking marked the start of ISIS Afghanistan operations. In the past few years, the government forces managed to repress the terrorist group in an array of regions seen as its hotbeds.

The fight against the ISIS in Afghanistan is much easier than in other countries, because on the one hand ISIS units are sporadic in Afghanistan. In fact, unlike in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is not a cohesive group in Afghanistan. Its Afghanistan branch is comprised of militias not united under one flag.

On the other hand, due to the sectarian mosaic structure in Afghanistan, the terrorist group has so far failed to name a leader agreed upon by all militias. All the groups associated with ISIS are acting independently in the Central Asian nation.

The central government of Afghanistan, despite the difficult battle with the Taliban and the exchange of areas between the government and the group, has been more successful in the fight against the ISIS, limiting its activities.

But ISIS re-emergence is setting off the alarm bells. Its revival is dangerous because the Western forces stationed in the country have no serious will to check terrorism growth. Actually, terrorism is growing while the American and Western forces are present in Afghanistan with full equipment and weaponry.

Some political experts suggest that the ISIS is restoring its strength in Afghanistan as part of an American and Western roadmap. They say its rise on the one hand wins justification to the Western military presence in Afghanistan and on the other hand serves West's strategic interests.

For the US and NATO, the presence in Afghanistan will lead to the control of three important countries of Iran, Russia and China, and the West is by no means willing to leave Afghanistan.

The strengthening of ISIS in Afghanistan could also pose the threats eyed by the West against Central Asia as Russia's backyard. So, this presence provides the US with a strategic opportunity to make troubles for its rivals.

So, it is not unfounded to consider ISIS re-rise in Afghanistan as being in line with the American and Western interests. In fact, the ISIS power gain in Afghanistan while the West is present militarily invites for suspicion. ISIS was brought back to Afghanistan and did not return itself, according to a political analyst.

No surprise, with ISIS revival, Afghanistan will experience insecure days. Insecurity is the favorable condition the US and NATO need to justify their stay in the war-weary country.

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