FUTURE Briefs

Attractive Zone

Why are ISIS Fighters Heading towards Afghanistan?
الإثنين، 15 يناير، 2018
Attractive Zone

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of ISIS fighters who are traveling to Afghanistan to join the Khorasan Province following the defeats the organization has been facing in Iraq and Syria. This has worried the Afghan government and neighboring countries, which think this will empower foreign fighters and encourage them to head towards their borders thus posing direct threats to their national security and stability.

Increased trends

A large number of foreign fighters went to Afghanistan during the past months to join ISIS’ Khorasan Province in Afghanistan. According to several reports from December 2017, ISIS’ Khorasan Province received ISIS fighters, including women, from Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Tajikistan.

These terrorists arrived in Afghanistan after participating in armed confrontations in Syria and Iraq. ISIS’ Khorasan Province set a special camp for them in southwest of Jowzjan Province to resume training and learn skills required to participate in the operations which the group carries out in Afghanistan. On January 3, the Afghan authorities said it detained 13 ISIS terrorists, which included foreigners, before they carried out any terrorist operations inside the country.

Foreign fighters’ travel to Afghanistan coincided with the organization’s increased activity which has been noticeable during recent months. Terrorist organizations seek to prove their capabilities that they can launch several terror attacks consecutively, especially against police forces, army troops and governmental institutions. An example is the attack that the organization carried out on December 25 near the Afghan intelligence building in Kabul. The attack killed at least 10 people and injured others, and it was carried out one week after targeting an Afghan intelligence training facility.

It is important to note that the Jowzjan Province is close to the borders with Uzbekistan. This province is one of the areas where the ISIS’ Khorasan Province has been active ever since it emerged in East Afghanistan in 2015.

Multiple reasons

Foreign fighters are interested in going to Afghanistan due to several considerations. The most important ones are:

1. Seeking protection: ISIS’ Khorasan Province is one of the most significant branches of ISIS as it controls a large area of towns and villages, especially in the Nangarhar Province, east of Afghanistan, and other provinces, like Jowzja, Sar-e Pol and Faryab. The organization also includes some fighters with significant fighting and organizational skills. This helps the group enhance its capabilities to launch qualitative attacks. Its diverse sources of funding will also help it expand. This will encourage many fighters who are escaping the battles in Syria and Iraq to head to Afghanistan.

2. Sectarian factor: ISIS and its different branches are keen on exploiting the sectarian factor to attract foreign fighters. It carries out terror attacks against other sects in order to attract new extremists and encourage them to join its ranks.

3. Easy movement: Afghanistan’s fragile borders allow foreign fighters to move freely compared with other areas where the organization’s different branches are. An example of these well-controlled borders are the borders with Pakistan, known as “the mountainous area”, which are sometimes used as passages to transfer hundreds of fighters.

Iran’s borders are another passage which terrorists can use to cross into Afghanistan. On January 4, Hezb-e Islami party and its founder Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, accused Iran of helping ISIS fighters cross into Afghanistan “to form a new ISIS version which Tehran uses as an excuse to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.”

This certainly shows that the policy which Tehran adopts contributes to the increased influence of terrorist groups as it overlooks, or to be more accurate it supports, terrorists’ movement from their territories in Afghanistan.

4. Resuming activity: Some ISIS fighters seek to resume their terrorist activity within the branches which pledged allegiance to the organization after leaving Iraq and Syria. The Khorasan Province is one of the available alternatives despite the several challenges it faces because of its involvement in armed confrontations on more than one front, such as against the police, army and the Taliban movement.

This, of course, is synchronous with the ISIS’ Khorasan Province’s attempts to increase its influence inside Afghanistan and become one of the most significant branches of ISIS after the latter’s capabilities declined in the past months.

5. Possible alternative: Afghanistan may be one of the possible alternatives for ISIS to move to during the next phase in order to achieve the aims it failed at accomplishing in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria after military strikes targeted its several fronts.

Foreign fighters’ rush to go to Afghanistan may give them priority to assume high-ranking posts in the organization, especially that the organization has differentiated between them and local members during the past four years.

Based on this, one can say that ISIS’ Khorasan Province may escalate its operations during the next phase to enhance its capabilities to attract more terrorists and become the most important group among terrorist groups which pledged their allegiance to ISIS.

الكلمات المفتاحية: داعشTerrorismISISUSأفغانستانAfghanistanAsiaTalibanCoalitionalQaeda

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