Friday, May 10

Enemy of my enemy: ISIS hit reveals the place U.S., Taliban pursuits align

It’s removed from a super partnership and one which comes with loads of baggage. But in Afghanistan, the enemy of our enemy could also be the perfect pal that the Biden administration has proper now.

Pentagon officers confirmed this week {that a} current operation by Kabul’s Taliban regime killed a key Islamic State chief believed to be instantly accountable for the August 2021 suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S.  Marines on the Kabul airport. That assault, which got here on the top of the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from the nation after 20 years of battle, solid a highlight on the deeply embedded terrorist networks nonetheless lively within the nation — threats that U.S. officers feared would quickly metastasize with no American troops left on the bottom to include them.

A key element of the U.S. withdrawal cope with Taliban hinged on guarantees that Afghanistan’s new rulers — who had sheltered Obama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders within the years earlier than the 9/11 assaults — would by no means once more enable the nation for use as a base from which jihadis may launch terrorist assaults on the West. In the practically two years for the reason that pullout, analysts say, the outcomes have been combined, with clear proof that quite a few extremist outfits are nonetheless alive and nicely on the bottom in Afghanistan.

But this week’s revelations sign that the pursuits of Washington and Kabul are in some situations intently aligned. The ruling Taliban sees the Islamic State-Khorasan, a very lively and violent department of the ISIS terror group, as maybe the best menace to its personal survival. Specialists say the Taliban has been searching down ISIS-Okay figures with ruthless aggression and in some instances executing them in brutal style. 

The Taliban is much from the mannequin U.S. counterterrorism companion. But analysts say it’s a actuality Washington could have to just accept.

“We’re not talking about the American relationship with Israel, or the American relationship with Egypt. But there have been these hopes that the enemy of my enemy could get some stuff done,” mentioned Graeme Smith, a senior advisor with the International Crisis Group who spent years working in Afghanistan, together with as a political affairs officer with the United Nations’ Assistance Mission within the nation.

In the face of appreciable skepticism, the Pentagon has insisted that the U.S. nonetheless has the “over-the-horizon” navy capabilities — primarily within the type of drone strikes — to take out terrorist threats in Afghanistan when essential. But that method is dangerous, Mr. Smith mentioned, because the Taliban believes its 2020 settlement with Washington strictly limits American navy exercise contained in the nation.

For the Biden administration, that would imply that it’s usually greatest to go away some counterterrorism missions to Taliban fighters fairly than threat additional eroding an already tenuous relationship between the 2 sides and even perhaps angering the Taliban to the purpose that it resumes direct cooperation with U.S. enemies equivalent to al Qaeda.

“The Americans put a lot of effort into retaining an over-the-horizon capacity to conduct airstrikes as needed, but they know they’re playing with fire when it comes to relations with the Taliban if they do that,” Mr. Smith mentioned. “The whole premise of the [U.S.-Taliban] deal was the Taliban promised to keep Afghan soil from ever again harboring threats to the outside world. And the outside world promised to stop pounding the country with bombs.”

“That’s really how the Taliban understands the deal,” he mentioned.

A mysterious mission

The precise circumstances across the current Taliban mission stay murky. Pentagon officers mentioned little concerning the operation however pressured that the U.S. wasn’t concerned.

“The Department of Defense can confirm that the senior ISIS-Khorasan plotter responsible for planning the Aug. 26, 2021 attack on Abbey Gate which killed 13 U.S. service members was killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban in early April. The United States was not involved in this operation,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder mentioned in an announcement late Tuesday night time. “The Department of Defense continues to maintain multifaceted capabilities to monitor and disrupt ISIS-K and other potential threats to our citizens and our interests. The department, alongside other components of the U.S. government, remains committed to protecting Americans from terrorist threats globally, wherever they might arise.”

The Pentagon didn’t determine the ISIS-Okay chief who was killed within the current Taliban operation.

Abdul Rehman Al-Loghri, the suicide bomber who killed 13 U.S. troops and greater than 170 Afghans on the Kabul airport’s Abbey Gate, had been launched from jail by the Taliban after they seized management of the nation.

 He triggered the bomb exterior the gate as U.S. troops had been evacuating Afghan allies and American diplomats and assist personnel through the rushed August 2021 withdrawal.
There are positive to be lingering questions concerning the Taliban mission, together with whether or not U.S. intelligence property or American allies within the area offered any details about the situation of the ISIS-Okay targets.

But Marvin G. Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan research on the Middle East Institute, argued in a brand new evaluation Monday that the necessity for cooperation in opposition to teams equivalent to Islamic State-Khorasan is one cause the U.S. ought to rethink its coverage of strictly restricted contact with Afghanistan’s new leaders.

“[As] much as we might prefer to see regime change in Afghanistan, for the foreseeable future a reasonably stable and sufficiently capable Taliban government is needed to help facilitate humanitarian programs, neutralize [ISIS-K], and avert state collapse and civil war,” he wrote.

Mixed report

It’s clear why the Taliban considers ISIS-Okay to be a major menace. The group has routinely carried out horrific assaults throughout the nation and has particularly focused authorities officers.

On March 11, for instance, an ISIS-Okay suicide bomber sneaked into the workplace of Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province, and detonated explosives. The blast killed the governor and one other official, and likewise wounded a number of others. 

In January, a bombing exterior Kabul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs killed at the very least 20 Afghans. ISIS-Okay claimed accountability for the assault. 

Those assaults have triggered a vicious response from the Taliban. Analysts say the group is environment friendly in its operations and cruel with its method.

“The Taliban’s approach to counterterrorism makes the CIA look like nice people. They go into mosques and cut the heads off of preachers,” Mr. Smith mentioned. 

But the Taliban’s counterterrorism marketing campaign is extremely restricted in scope, at the very least by U.S. requirements. U.S. authorities assessments have often concluded that main terrorist teams, together with al Qaeda, are nonetheless lively within the nation.

Other extremist teams additionally usually are not solely lively in Afghanistan however in some instances appear to get pleasure from at the very least tacit help from the Taliban. Specialists level to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TPP, for example. The group is an alliance of militant networks shaped in opposition to the neighboring Pakistani navy, based on U.S. authorities assessments. The State Department has designated it a overseas terrorist group.

While Pakistan and different regional gamers argued that the group would possibly fade away with out the presence of U.S. troops within the area, analysts say the other has confirmed true.

“On the contrary, the TTP seems to have been energized with the Taliban’s takeover and looks stronger than before,” Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia senior knowledgeable on the U.S. Institute, wrote in an evaluation final yr. “The depth of the TTP-Afghan Taliban relationship became evident after the Taliban’s August takeover. Almost immediately, Taliban leadership released senior TTP leaders and a large number of fighters imprisoned by the former Afghan government,” he wrote. “The Taliban regime also appears to have provided the TTP’s top leadership with de facto political asylum and freedom of movement within Afghanistan — from which the group is directing its campaign of violence in Pakistan.”

Pakistan has complained repeatedly that the brand new Taliban regime in Kabul has didn’t crack down on the TPP or prevented it from launching assaults throughout the border into Pakistan.

— Mike Glenn contributed to this text

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