When reports Initially surfaced in the media about the emergence of Daesh in Afghanistan, the Afghan political and security leadership tried to play down the rumors of growing influence of the group in the country and said it did not have the capacity to infiltrate and carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
But this observation was totally miscalculated as it was not based on facts or credible intelligence reports.
At first, the Afghan government claimed the rumors about Daesh fighters in Afghanistan was just propaganda. But within the span of a few months, the reality of the situation emerged when it became clear the brutal and ideologically extremist group was active in the unstable regions in eastern Afghanistan.
Daesh first appeared in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces – both of which border Pakistan – when they hanged several Taliban commanders who refused to pledge allegiance to the group.
This however was just the start of yet another issue for a nation that was still trying to rid itself of the oppression imposed by the Taliban militancy.
With the announcement of a caliphate by Daesh’s infamous leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in June 2014, the group quickly found some supporters among extremist individuals in Afghanistan. In early September 2014, reports surfaced of Daesh leaflets being distributed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and nearby Afghan regions where some militants pledged allegiance to the group.
A former senior Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Rauf Khadim appeared to be the first high profile Afghan Taliban commander to announce allegiance with the group in 2014. In January 2015, Daesh formally recognized the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as part of its Khurasan province and called on people to support it.
The announcement sparked major concerns among ordinary Afghans who were still paying a big price in the face of the Taliban’s unending insurgency.
Daesh Declares Afghanistan-Pakistan as Khorasan Province
As mentioned, on January 26, 2015, Daesh announced Afghanistan-Pakistan and nearby regions as its Khorasan province with Hafiz Saeed Khan as its governor and Abdul Rauf as his deputy - after both swore an oath of allegiance to the group’s leader Baghdadi.
On February 9, 2015, Mullah Abdul Rauf was killed by a NATO airstrike, and his replacement, Hafiz Wahidi, was killed by the Afghan security forces on March 18, 2015. Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Emir of Daesh’s Khorasan Province, was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan on July 25, 2016.
How Daesh gained global prominence in early 2014
Daesh gained global prominence in early 2014 when the group’s fighters successfully drove the Iraqi government forces out of some strategic cities in western Iraq, followed by its capture of Mosul city.
From 2014 onwards Daesh became a major cause for concern among Afghan people. But the Afghan government was still reluctant to clarify its strategy to counter the threats emerging from the group – this while Daesh followed a Salafi-type extremist ideology which posed a major threat to the multiethnic society of Afghanistan.
Daesh’s first attack on Afghanistan
On Apr 18, 2015, Daesh launched its first terrorist attack in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber killed 33 people outside a bank in Jalalabad in Nangarhar. The attack in Jalalabad was a major blow to the Afghan government which had continued to reject claims of the group’s presence in Afghanistan. Gradually Daesh launched a onslaught of deadly attacks on the Afghan people especially the Shiite minority.
Over 60 Attacks Hit Afghanistan In 2017
Between early 2015 and the end of 2017, the group had carried out over 60 attacks in Afghanistan – many of which were deadly suicide bombings.
Included in these attacks were:
• The attack on Tabyan Cultural Center in Kabul - 42 killed and 84 wounded
• The attack on Jawadia Mosque in Herat - 29 killed and 46 wounded
• The attack on Shamshad TV in Kabul - 2 killed and 21 wounded
• The attack on Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul - 50 killed and 46 wounded
• The attack on a mosque in Ghor province - 33 killed and 46 wounded
• The attack on al-Zahra Mosque in Kabul - 7 killed and 21 wounded
Daesh has since been acknowledged as a threat to Afghanistan’s stability, but we still do not see any understanding on the part of the Afghan political elite regarding the issue of Daesh and its security implications – which just adds to the woes of the fragile security landscape of Afghanistan.
In some cases, high level Afghan government officials have even been accused of cooperating with and having ties to Daesh. Such an issue has further confused the minds of the Afghan people.
End of Self-Proclaimed Caliphate
On November 21 last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the downfall of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, an announcement which was interpreted as a turning point in the collapse of one of most ruthless terrorist organizations to emerge this century.
Rouhani’s announcement was followed by a similar announcement by the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who also declared an end to the military campaign against Daesh on December 9. This wrapped up three years of battle against the group in his country. Daesh had control over nearly one-third of Iraqi territory and was threatening peace and security in the entire Middle East.
The announcement by the Iranian and Iraqi leaders heralded a significant achievement for the people of Middle Eastern countries, who had collectively run a vast military campaign against the group in Iraq since its inception.
By June 2014, the terrorist group had seized control of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated north and west regions, putting more than four million Iraqis under its control. Daesh also rallied vastly to escalate sectarian violence among different ethnicities and religious groups in the Shia majority Iraq , which was still recovering from years of conflict and war following the US military intervention in 2002.
According to some unofficial reports, about three million Iraqis are still displaced. Daesh also caused billions of dollars in losses to the local economy and social infrastructures in Iraq and Syria while thousands of Iraqi and Syrian security force members, including civilians, were killed and wounded during the group’s reign.
The slow and extremely bloody battle against Daesh initially began in the summer of 2014, soon after a few thousand of the group’s fighters stunned Iraq and the world by taking over the Iraqi city of Mosul. The Iraqi military fled the city, leaving their weapons and equipment to Daesh, as well as the city’s riches to bolster the group’s coffers.
For three years it was a financial and political hub for the extremists’ self-declared caliphate and Daesh – a location for the group to plan its military mission against targets in other cities across the country.
What Does The Fall of Daesh in Iraq and Syria Mean for Afghanistan?
Despite the fact that Daesh’s footprint in Iraq and Syria has virtually disappeared, the group is gaining new footholds in Afghanistan and this poses a major threat to Afghanistan’s security.
In recent months, there have been a lot of media reports about the increasing number of Daesh fighters in some of Afghanistan’s northern towns and districts, particularly in Jawzjan province. On December 11, Afghanistan’s ministry of interior announced that it was investigating the presence of European militants fighting alongside Daesh in Jawzjan.
AFP recently reported that French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, have joined the ranks of Daesh in Jawzjan, where the militants reportedly established new bases.
The residents of Darzab districts in the volatile Jawzjan province told AFP that roughly 200 foreigners had set up camp just a few hundred meters from the village of Bibi Mariam.
These are the realities that the Afghan government cannot ignore. The government needs to be true to the people and speak honestly about the threats of Daesh in the country. Government also needs to lobby for more international support to wipe out the cells of this group.
Daesh threats have also sparked strong concerns in other central Asian countries and in Russia. These threats need to be addressed firmly by the international community.
Because Afghanistan is on the frontline in the fight against international terrorism, and has suffered more than any other nation in the world, it cannot deal with another terrorist group in the form of Daesh.
Afghanistan’s international partners, who signed security and strategic cooperation agreements, have a moral and legal obligation to be truthful about their counter-terrorism policies in Afghanistan.
Despite the long list of attacks by Daesh, government continues to be vague about the problem. On January 8 this year, the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) said that big attacks in the cities are being carried out by Haqqani network under the name of Daesh.
In this case, the Afghan government should ask the UN Security Council to put pressure on Pakistan to stop waging war against Afghanistan with the help of its proxies such as Haqqani and instead take solid action against Afghan Taliban leadership.