No, the new Afghanistan under the Taliban will not be a base for terrorist organizations, the extremist movement promised beforehand. In reality, the Central Asian country has been a hotbed for terrorists for years. And over the past few months thousands of fighters have been freed from prison and thousands of foreign extremists have moved to Afghanistan.
“The chances of planning a new 11 September from Afghanistan is small for now,” says Jorrit Kamminga (Institute Clingendael). He doesn‘t think we should underestimate how much planning and organization will cost a major attack on the other side of the world. “But the chance of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and the region remains very high.”
Friend or enemy
Dozens of armed groups are capable of doing so, all with their own agenda. Some consider each other as family – others as apostate enemy.
“You have the jihadists with their ideological struggle against the West, but it also includes transnational and regional conflicts, such as India and Pakistan struggle. Since those jihadist organizations are all supported by different countries in the region, they are fighting against each other,” says Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University).
In this article, we limit ourselves to four terrorist organisations that experts believe to pose a major short-term danger. The exact number of warriors cannot be estimated, but this is the estimate based on UN reports and analysis:
Al-Qaida Terror Organization has two branches in Afghanistan: the regular and the AQIS founded in 2014. The latter group is, as it were, the South Asian department, which seems to be more focused on a long-term presence in collaboration with local groups.
Despite all the promises of the Taliban, which were also on the US list of terror movements until a few years ago, ties to al-Qaida are still present. At most the contact seems to be more in the background. Probably so that the rulers in Kabul can keep up appearances in their search for international recognition.
This video shows who the Taliban are and what they want to achieve:
Although al-Qaida and AQIS are still relatively small in terms of force, it can change quickly. De Graaf: “The U.S. Intelligence CIA has said they can be back to old levels this year, perhaps even faster.” Many of the thousands of warriors freed from prison have joined the Taliban, but also part of al-Qaida and AQIS or other terrorist groups.
Warm (family) tires
According to experts, it remains difficult to tell if Al-Qaida will actually grow sharply. It is clear that this group maintains the warmest ties to the Haqqani Network (HN). This is a semion-dependent group within the Taliban, which is also regarded as a terrorist organisation internationally. The network is held responsible for numerous attacks in the region.
“The members of HN and al-Qaida are often blood relatives and that’s why they hold hands above their heads,” says De Graaf. In fact, the Haqqani Network seems to be pulling more power to itself. For example, prominent members of it have received high positions as minister or governor since the Taliban recapture Kabul.
Kamminga emphasizes that the relationships between HN, al-Qaida and AQIS remain opaque. “These groups often operate independently and there is often temporary or purely pragmatic cooperation.”
At least with one terrorist organization, the Taliban and al-Qaida will never work together: Islamic State. The organizations are each others‘ sworn enemies.
‘War for South Asia‘
IS operates in Afghanistan under the name Islamic State of Khorasan.” They seem to want to create a new caliphate”, De Graaf explains. Khorasan refers to an area of the Persian Empire that runs from South Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea. “AQIS and IS-K are in fact at war with each other for those who are in charge of South Asia.”
The Sunni IS-K is seen as the most radical of the two in the pursuit of a global jihad. De Graaf: “Al-Qaida and IS-K differ when you can declare a Muslim as apostate. And what the punishment may be, how much force and under what conditions you can create such a territorial caliphate. IS-K goes furthest on all those fronts.”
For example, the group commits attacks against the Shiite minority in Afghanistan faster than AQ. The hard core would consist of IS-veterans from the former caliphate in Syria and Iraq. IS-K also claimed last week’s attack at Kabul Airport. More than 150 civilian deaths, as well as 13 US soldiers and an unknown number of Taliban times.
In the hurryThe departure of the international force and the Afghan Army‘s retreat have been abandoned by massive weapons and vehicles. For a large part, they ended up in the hands of the Taliban. However, experts believe that a large part of the liberated forces and the exploited war equipment will inevitably end up in terror groups.
According to Kamminga, those weapons don’t have to make a big difference. “There has never been a lack of weapons in Afghanistan. But the liberation of jihadists can be important, especially when it comes to experienced people with charisma and leadership skills.”