ISIS-K: The Renewed Threat Post US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Faizan Ali


Afghanistan has remained asfocal point of terrorism in the post 9/11 attacks. The country has suffered severe loss in terms ofhuman and infrastructure. But Afghanistan has been headed towardsroad of peace and political stability after the peace agreement signed on February 29, 2020 between the US government and the Taliban. The peace agreement has been a great development for strengthening democratization and power-sharing among the stakeholders in Afghanistan. But now, with the completeU.S withdrawal from Afghanistan on 31st August, 2021, there have been resurgence of the ISK which may hinder peace at national, regional or even at global level.

Who is ISK?

ISIL Khorasan (ISIL-K or ISKP) known as an offshoot of the ISIL (ISIS) armed groupthat claimed to be looking for formationof an “Islamic caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.The Islamic State (or ISIS) announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015. Khorasan refers to a historical region under an ancient caliphate that once included parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkmenistan. ISKP declared its establishment in an online video on January 10, 2015. It was formed by breakaway fighters of Pakistan Taliban and fighters from Afghanistan who pledged allegiance toAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi aka Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, the formerleader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Threat of ISKP:

On January 26, 2015 ISIL announced its expansion into the area historically known as Khorasan. ISIL- K has carried out numerous attacks since its formation against civilians and security forces of Afghanistan and Pakistankilling people at mosques, public squares and even hospitals. IS-K also has served as lasting threat to U.S. and allied interests in Afghanistan and neighboring region.Since 2016, the US-led Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy has disrupted ISIS-K’s critical requirements and prevented external attacks. The estimated strength of ISIS ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 fighters.The ISK threat has not only drawn the attention of the regional powers such as China, Russia, and Iran. But, it has staggered other actors as well i.e. Pakistan, Turkey, India. ISK has been againstprevious Afghan government, the present regime of Taliban and the US troops inAfghanistan. With U.S forces withdrawal, the threat of IS affiliate has renewed or reemerged which has raised security concerns in Afghanistan. It poses challenge to Taliban regime and also has become concern for peace and stability of the whole region as well as to the whole world. The Taliban as opposed to ISK only sought to establish their government inside Afghanistan while ISIS has global agendas. By 2018, it had become one of the top four deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index. The group has intensifiedterrorist activities in the region as evident by recent attacks of ISKP terrorists on the Kabul airporton Aug. 26, 2021, that killed at least 175 civilians and 13 US soldiers, at least 28 Taliban membersand left dozens injured.  With these attacks ISK wants to demonstrate its strategic rival- the Afghan Taliban regime as incapable of providing security to the population of Afghanistan hence highlighting their own stake in region.


The ISK has beenbased on an expansionist military strategy with local and global objectives as its central tactics. The aim is to export its violent ideology and the ‘caliphate’ to other parts of world. With the subversive and violent tactics ISK aims at delegitimizing existing states, degrading trust in democracy and other western values. It has been exploiting sectarianism and sowing instability in its areas of influence to secure its ‘caliphate’ goals. With its ‘sleeper cells’it plans to plot and carry out visible and disruptive attacks hence furthering its objectives. 


The effectiveness of recruitment strategy is crucial for sustainability of any insurgent campaign. ISK likewise ISISexploits apocalyptic prophecies stated in the Qur’an and hadiths to find new recruits and legitimize its ideology. For this purpose the sensitive issues of Islam are misinterpreted to mislead and terrorize young Muslims. The misuse of innocent verses and hadiths leads to terrorism in the hands of people with fundamentalist beliefs.ISIS used eschatological knowledge to persuade Muslim youth to migrate to its so-called lands and fight for its patronizing cause.

Religions may be hijacked by malicious groups such as terrorist organizations to encourage people to join them and fight for their causes. ISIS has used this method through speeches by its leaders, meetings, the internet and particularly its media outlets.ISIS magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah contain prophetic messages it has used to attempt to convince its members and foreigners. The magazines claim that the group is the chosen ‘nation’ led by self-declared Caliph Ibrahim (Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi) and that the ISIS army will represent both the Muslim side in the Al-Malhamah Al-Kubra War (Armageddon War) and the soldiers of Jesus Christ during his second coming. In addition to trying to prove its holiness in the magazines, ISIS has also strived to attract people to join its armies for the supposed upcoming wars. For that purpose, it referred to many hadiths and Quranic verses to justify its arguments.

ISIS have tried to prove that it is the group (together with its leader, lands, and army) referred to in Qur’an and hadiths regarding End Times. ISIS made an effort to materialize its prophetic claims by encouraging hijrah (migration), asking for allegiance to Caliph Ibrahim (Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi) and legitimizing jihad.However, since the group was defeated and lost all its prominent leaders in a few years, none of the prophecies it relied on came to be true.


The Taliban regime has come into power after U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan and this has widespread repercussions. The focus is the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan and region but now ISKP seems to resurge. ISKP will make efforts to put hurdles in environment of peace and stability which Taliban regime would try to work for. ISK would also start a new offensive campaign against Taliban regime. It is imminent that ISKP would try to sow discord and unrest and hence recruit members from opposing groups of Taliban to reorganize and target Taliban’s highly valuable targets. ISK seems to intensify its operations to show Taliban regime as incapable of providing security to the population of Afghanistan. However, the growth of this looming threat of ISKP can be a setback to peace and stability at national, regional and international levels.


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