Know Thy Enemy: Who is ISIS-K


The suicide bombing attack which struck the Hamid Karzai International Airport also known as HKAIA in Kabul killed 13 American Service Members and 169 Afghans. It was sudden, it was brutal, the targets were civilians who were huddled and headed in confined areas waiting to enter at the Abbey gate of the Afghanistan Airport. According to The Wallstreet Journal “A suicide bomb attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate was followed by an assault by gunmen, officials said. Another bomb attack took place nearby, at a hotel outside the airport, officials said. Eighteen U.S. service members were injured, the Pentagon said.” Who were the attackers? Who is “ISIS-K”?

The ISIS Khorasan Province

The ISIS-K branch was established in 2015 after a group of Pakistani Taliban members broke away from the Afghan faction and grew to be fierce enemies. The group of terrorists then swore their allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi after his declaration of the Caliphate which launched the war against ISIS following their insurrection in Iraq and entry into the Syrian Civil War. The group’s historical basis is on the historic “Khorasan” region established in the sixth century which encompasses large swaths of present-day northern and northwestern Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

According to the UN Security Council,

“ISIL Khorasan (ISIL – K) announced its formation in an online video on January 10, 2015. The group was led by a former Tehrik-e Taliban commander, , and was established by former Taliban faction commanders who swore an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (listed as Al-Qaida in Iraq () leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (listed as Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai ). On January 26, 2015, ISIL spokesman Abou Mohamed al Adnani, announced ISIL’s expansion into the area historically known as Khorasan, by acknowledging ISIL – K’s leader’s pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi and claiming al-Baghdadi accepted the pledge and appointed him as governor of the Khorasan Province.

ISIL- K has carried out numerous attacks since its formation:

•    In April 2015, the group claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan that killed at least 34 people and injured over 120.
•    In September 2015, the group carried out an assault on police checkpoints in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least two police officers.
•    In November 2016, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Quetta, Pakistan that killed at least 50 people and injured over 100 people.
•    In December 2017, the group claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bombings at a Shi’ite cultural center and news agency in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed more than 41 people, including women and children, and injured over 84 people.
•    In July 2018, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan that killed at least 31 people and injured over 24 people. In the same month, the group also claimed responsibility for an attack in the southwestern province of Baluchistan that killed 128 people, including a politician running for a provincial legislature.
•    In November 2018, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in northwestern Pakistan, targeting Shi’ite Muslims in a market in Orakzai, killing at least 33 people and injuring 56 others.”

According to the Center For Strategic & International Studies,

“The U.S. Department of State designated IS-K as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 14, 2016, and United States Central Command has escalated its air campaign against the group since 2016 when rules of engagement expanded under President Obama and President Trump.38 According to data compiled by ACLED, U.S. and NATO airstrikes against IS-K have been conducted over 300 times since January 2017. Though the group’s presence across Afghanistan is increasing, airstrikes have been nearly exclusive to Nangarhar and Kunar provinces (96 percent of all airstrikes since January 2017) in an effort to target operational bases and leadership.39 All in all, while IS-K’s goal of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia remains improbable, its propensity for exploiting grievances, catalyzing instability, and taking advantage of ungoverned spaces will make peaceful reconciliation and nation-building in Afghanistan difficult for the foreseeable future.”

The Kabul attack represents the resurgence of a group that was essentially dormant for almost three years, awakened now by the power vacuum left in the collapse of the Afghanistani government. Whether they’ll continue to target Americans or resume their campaign against the Taliban remains to be seen. As British Forces News reported, there is a possibility that ISIS-K and the Taliban may cooperate, especially given that the ISIS-K prisoners were released from Afghan government custody by the Taliban after the fall of Kabul.


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