ISIL in Afghanistan

A profound analysis of the real role of Daesh in Afghanistan and its connection with the recent terrorist attacks in this country.

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Narration: The history of warfare is one of choices, and therefore, always avoidable. This history is usually of political and military leaders who intentionally go to war to save their own hide rather than to defend a country or a principle.

SOUNDBITE [English] Zbigniew Brzezinski, US national Security Advisor: “That land over, there is yours, and you’ll go back to it someday, because your fight will prevail, and you’ll have your homes, your mosques, (back again, because your cause is right, and god is on your side.”

Narration: On September 11th, 2001, the twin towers of the world trade center in New York City were hit; quickly after, Al-Qaeda was labeled as the perpetrator of this terrorist action. That deadly event, gave way to an American notion of pre-emptive war soon after, where George W. Bush, waged war on Afghanistan under the pretext, that it harbors Osama Bin Laden, the putative mastermind of the 9, 11 attacks and the leader of Al-Qaeda, who had been sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan since a couple of years earlier.

SOUNDBITE [English] George W. Bush, Former US President: “Wanted Dead or Alive. All I want, and America wants him brought to justice.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Unknown Afghan man: “Long live Mullah Omar! Long Live Osama!”

Narration: Following that, the US government demanded that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden. After refusing to comply, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) was launched on October 7th 2001.

Since then, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world due to a lack of foreign investment, government corruption, and above all insecurity, instability and insurgency.

A better look at the chemistry and history of this co-called War on Terror, reveals that the roots of insecurity and insurgency, trace a trail back to the Reagan Doctrine of Afghanistan, where the US promoted the violent Mujahedeen to harass the then Soviet Union in the 1980’s.

It can be argued that the subversive American efforts in that era, in conjunction with the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus and the Saudi Arabian pockets and religious mentality, sowed the seeds of what later on, came home to roost, with Bin Laden and the Taliban.

SOUNDBITE [English] Hillary Clinton, Former United States secretary of state: “Just remember here the people we are fighting today we funded 20 years ago”

Narration: It may have been, the neglect of a war-torn Afghanistan following the exit of the Soviet army in the late 80’s that resulted in a civil war, which proved most hospitable to the likes of Al-Qaeda, but factual revelations confirm, it was the US foreign policy agenda, that created it.

Following the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani took over Hamed Karzai’s seat. This coincided with the seeming end of the US war in Afghanistan on December 28, 2014.

Since then, the number of terrorist attacks inside the country has "almost doubled" and in April this year, a series of bombs ripped through the city of Jalalabad, killing at least 33 people and injuring more than 100.

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Narration: Nothing stood out about the attacks compared to previous grant incidents. The Taliban quickly denied responsibility and even called the bombings an "evil act". Instead, a small group claiming to be part of the ISIL they were behind the massacre.

President Ashraf Ghani, whose handling of security in the country has been criticized by the Afghan parliament, appeared on national TV soon after the attacks and named “Daesh" (the Arabic term for ISIL), as the perpetrators, without providing details.

Soon, headlines ran that ISIL had just pulled off one of their largest attacks yet outside the Middle East. This came after months of speculation about ISIL's reach in Afghanistan.

While reports of various militant groups across Afghanistan operating under the ISIL flag have increased in recent months, nothing indicates that they have any formal connection to ISIL "headquarters" in Syria or Iraq.

In fact, Afghanistan has a long tradition of various militant groups shifting allegiances, and most of the suspected ISIL groups appear to be eighter former Taliban or local militias that have simply spontaneously decided to use the black flag to attract support or attention.

SOUNDBITE [English] Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan: Not as soldiers, but as parents showing their children the beautiful country where they served in the war that defeated terror.”

Narration: Ashraf Ghani has frequently played up the potential of ISIL in Afghanistan also like when he called the group a "terrible threat" while addressing the US Congress in March, 2015. But much of this seems to be hyperbole and an attempt to ensure continued international interest in and engagement with Afghanistan.

Yet, ISIL did "go official" in Afghanistan, earlier this year, announcing the creation of a chapter for "Khorasan". But the new chapter's leader, Abdul Rauf Khadim, was killed in a US drone strike just weeks later - and more recent reports indicate that other senior leaders have met the same fate.

So, is the presence of ISIL in Afghanistan, a reality?

As of June 2015, ISIL in Afghanistan is nascent at best. In fact, it is more of an aspiration for, if not inspiration to, certain disgruntled extremist pockets, more than anything else. May be an excuse for marginalized extremist elements, including those of the Taliban, to re-tool or re-group and certainly a means to get more media attention and as a result, gain more impact and access to financial and human resources.

The Taliban networks are well established, and it is no secret that major ideological and cultural differences exist between them and ISIL.

This is at a time, when the presence of the extremist militants in the country has been confirmed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The UN envoy to Afghanistan acknowledged that ISIL could potentially unite minor extremist groups in the country under a new command.

This is not to say the threat of ISIL should be taken lightly in Afghanistan, as there are certainly conditions the group could exploit. Disgruntled commanders from the Taliban or other armed groups could certainly "rebrand" under the ISIL black flag - something which appears to have happened already, although not to the extent that has been reported. Competition with al-Qaeda, who last year announced a new South Asia chapter, could also lead ISIL to intensify its efforts to expand beyond the Middle East, with Afghanistan and Pakistan as prime targets.

But for now, the prospect of an ISIL takeover of, or even substantial presence in Afghanistan, is far from becoming reality.

The color of the Taliban flag may be white, and the color of the ISIL flag might be black, but the reality on the ground and brewing underneath in Afghanistan, is neither. It is “grayish”. Although, in several shades.

If ISIL ever ends up officially expanding into Afghanistan, chances are it won’t be for ideological or political reasons, but perhaps mainly for economic ones.

After all, ISIL is too reliant on oil, be it from selling the oil it pumps directly, or the petro-dollars it receives from certain Arab sponsors. Yet, the question remains, to what extent and till when can this reliance be sustained and to what extent and how soon, will ISIL come to consider diversifying its sources of finance, to cover also that of drug money; something which is said to be running, in the billions of dollars out of Afghanistan, already. 

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