A deadly attack against American and Afghan civilians would be a disaster not only for the United States, but also for the Taliban, who are moving to consolidate control over Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been enemies, fighting each other on the battlefield for control of parts of the country.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Western counterterrorism analysts say a high-profile attack by ISIS during the evacuation would most likely lift the group’s flagging fortunes, recruiting and prestige.
A United Nations report in June assessed that the Islamic State’s “territorial losses have affected the group’s ability to recruit and generate new funding.”
Although the ISIS affiliate was still believed to have 1,500 to 2,200 fighters in small areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, the report said, “it has been forced to decentralize and consists primarily of cells and small groups across the country, acting in an autonomous manner while sharing the same ideology.”
While the group suffered military setbacks starting in summer 2018, the report concluded that since June 2020, under its ambitious new leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “remains active and dangerous,” and is seeking to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and other militants.
“Given that ISIS-K and the Taliban are enemies, it will be a challenge for ISIS-K,” Mr. Clarke said. “Nevertheless, the Taliban now has its hands full with governing, which will consume considerable bandwidth within the organization.”
Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator in the Trump administration, said on Sunday that if the ISIS affiliate was capable of attacking the airport in Kabul, “that suggests Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal will be a permissive environment for all sorts of terrorist groups, even those hostile to the Taliban.”