On Wednesday Aug. 26, 2021, an attack in Kabul crowded area around an airport led to bloodshed of U.S marines, service people as well as innocent Afghani civilians. The attacked was claimed by the terrorist group IS-K. The attack left more than 90 people dead and injuring at least150 others. 13 U.S marines were among those who died and injured at least 15 as Pentagon confirmed.  The attack took place in an area just outside of Hamid Karzai Airport and was carried out by a suicide bomber. According to Taliban who are currently ruling Afghanistan, among those killed in the explosion were 28 Taliban fighters. 

Another blast was heard afterwards but it turned out to be a “controlled detonation by the U.S military. Some reports suggest that several more explosion blasts were heard in the evening and believed to be done by the U.S military to get rid of their own heavy weaponry and equipment to avoid it from falling into the hands of either of the terrorist groups in the region. 

Who are ISIS-K/IS-K?

IS-K, also known as ISIS Khorasan and SKP a, is ISIS’s Pakistan and Afghanistan branch – recognized by the main ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria as “their official operatives” in Afghanistan. It was founded in 2015 by the members of Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Within the span of 5 years, the group rapidly accomplished conquering some territories (mostly in northeast Afghanistan and undertaking several deadly terrorist attacks within the two regions in question. After peaking in 2018, by 2020 the group had been thwarted (some claim) fallout after colliding with U.S forces alongside Afghani fighters. Since the group contains of militants with mixed backgrounds and nationalities, IS-K uses the local knowledge of their militants to increase their chances of taking over territories and thriving in them. IS-K tightly secured the strategic area of southern district of Nangarhar, a place that happens to be at the northeast border with Pakistan as well as the former al-Qaida shelter. 

IS-K used this territory to recruit and get all forms of supply from the locals on both ends of the border. The group had continued forging and strengthening its basis by getting support including monetary funding from the main leadership branch in Iraq and Syria. In the past, IS-K carried brutal attacks against innocent civilians at places like schools and other public areas. As the offenses against IS-K in both Afghanistan and Pakistan increased, the loss of the group had risen in numbers; over 10,000 affiliates were killed or surrendered with or without their will, and more than 500 fighters in high ranking positions were included. What seemed to be a devastating defeat of the  IS-K had turned out to be a rather a surprising twist after their recent attack in Kabul.

Major Attacks

April 18, 2015: IS-KP conducted a suicide bombing outside a bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (33 killed, 100+ wounded)
May 13, 2015: 6 gunmen allegedly associated with IS-KP attacked a bus in Karachi, Pakistan. Although IS claimed the attack, Jundullah (a group allegiant to IS) and the TTP also claimed responsibility. If IS-KP’s claim is accurate, this attack would be its first in Pakistan (45 killed, 13 wounded)
July 23, 2016: IS-KP conducted a dual suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a group of demonstrators from Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazara minority. The bombing was one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan since the invasion of the United States in 2001 (80+ killed, 230+ wounded)
August 8, 2016: IS-KP conducted a suicide bombing at a civil hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. The attack took place after a number of lawyers and journalists had gathered at the hospital to mourn the death of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association in a separate shooting incident earlier that day. Although the attack is attributed to IS-KP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) also claimed responsibility (93 killed, 120 wounded)
October 24, 2016: Three IS-KP militants attacked 700 unarmed, sleeping cadets at a police training center in Quetta, Pakistan. At least 260 cadets were rescued by Special Services Group commandos in a counter-offensive against the attackers. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) also claimed responsibility for the attack (61 killed, 165 injured)
November 12, 2016: IS-KP conducted a suicide bombing on civilians gathered for a religious ceremony at a Sufi shrine in Balochistan, Pakistan (52+ killed, 100+ wounded)
February 16, 2017: IS-KP conducted a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan, where hundreds of devotees had gathered to perform a religious ritual. The attack appeared to be concentrated on the portion of the shrine reserved for women (100 killed, 250 wounded)
March 8, 2017: IS-KP militants dressed as doctors stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. The militants, armed with guns and grenades, opened fire on staff and patients after detonating explosives at the hospital gate. After several hours of fighting, Afghan commandos killed all four IS-KP attackers (49 killed, 90 wounded)
August 1, 2017: Two IS-KP suicide bombers attacked a Shiite Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. The militants shot at worshipers inside the mosque (29 killed, 64 injured)
December 28, 2017: An identified IS-KP militant attacked a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many casualties included students attending a conference in the vicinity. Two other car bombs were detonated in the same zone (41 killed, 84 wounded)
March 21, 2018: A suicide bombing later claimed by IS-KP detonated near a Shiite shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan during Persian New Year celebrations (33 killed, 65 wounded)
April 22, 2018: An IS-KP militant attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, Afghanistan using a suicide bomb. The casualties were all identified as civilian, most of whom had been waiting to apply for state-issued IDs in order to register to vote in the upcoming elections (57 killed, 119 injured)
April 22, 2018: An IS-KP militant attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, Afghanistan using a suicide bomb. The casualties were all identified as civilian, most of whom had been waiting to apply for state-issued IDs in order to register to vote in the upcoming elections (57 killed, 119 injured)
August 26, 2021: Two IS-K suicide bomber exploded near outside of Hamid Karzai airport where there was a massive crowd including foreign forces and other Afghani civilians. (90 killed,150 injured)

In addition, IS-K is also referred to as an off-shoot of ISIS. However, IS-K claims to have a historical meaning underlying their efforts to take over and settle in the Khorasan region. IS-K’s capability is what more than they eye meets; ISIS-K’s past attacks and bombings had shown the level of destruction in which this subgroup can undertake. IS-K, just like other jihadist groups, aims to establish an expansion of their “caliphate Waliyat” within the Khorasan province. 

IS-K Organizational Structure/Leadership

In terms of the organization, IS-K mainly has mixture of militias that used to fight for organizations like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in which they used to pose a “political armed gang.” In an interview conducted by CNN’s Clarissa Ward with a senior IS-K commander who calls himself “Abdul Munir” reveals that fighters like Abdul Munir used to fight for Taliban but had to defect due to mismatch of principles when it comes to applying Islamic Sharia.. He adds “I have about 600 men including Indians, Pakistanis and Central Asians”. As fighters in the TTP including some in commanding positions fled to join IS-KP, the group’s strength had doubled.

What Awaits Ahead?

Experts are showing extreme lack of optimism for the future of  Afghanistan. Until the recent attack on Wednesday, the eminancy of the threat that IS-K poses seemed to be overlooked. Despite warnings by intelligence agencies as well as the U.S embassy’s security alert, the reponses were merely silence. With the Biden adminstration vowing to “not forgive and not forget” as U.S marine are in the midst of pull-out mess, the future of Afghanistan seems bleaker.  

A key thing to note here is, although IS-K maintains to play at both sides of the border, it is relations with the already existing jihadist group Taliban in Afghanistan is rather hostile; ISIS along with IS-K see Taliban as their strategic rivals “not radical enough” they claim. As the senior IS-K commander Abdul Muni states “Taliban has fallen under the influence of foreign powers.” The cruel relation between the two groups is displayed through the exchange of attacks and individual fighter captures. 

As for now, IS-K will most probably continue disrupting the already messy withdrawal situation in Afghanistan. Once again, during the CNN interview, when Abdul Munir was asked “whether the withdrawal of foreign powers from Afghanistan will make IS-k operate smoother, he replied “Yes, that’s part of our plan; we have been focusing on recruitment as the withdrawal process went, laying low and waiting for the right moment to operate”.  

There is no doubt that the withdrawal of western forces will open the safe heaven gates for terrorists like IS-K to continue stirring more chaos. Nevertheless, It is currently difficult to imagine how things will turn out after the last remaining U.S soldier in Afghanistan leaves specially what will the next step of the U.S will be. 

*The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform. 

© 2019 All Rights Reserved