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IS Ramps Up Attacks in Afghanistan, Taliban Claim Key Arrest

The iconic Taliban flag is painted on a wall outside the American embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2021.
The iconic Taliban flag is painted on a wall outside the American embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2021.

Amid an intensified terror campaign by the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) group in Afghanistan which has killed dozens of civilians this week, Taliban authorities claim they have captured the group’s liaison for Europe.

On Tuesday, the Taliban’s intelligence agency released a video confession of an alleged ISK member who says he helped foreign nationals join the terrorist group in Afghanistan.

“I had invited 10 to 15 people and one of them has come to Afghanistan,” says the Afghan man in the video.

The man also claims he collected funds for ISK from three European countries. “I collected $15,000 from Ukraine, 5,000 euros from Germany, and about 1,500 euros from Spain.”

The release of the Taliban video comes at a time when ISK has perpetrated several deadly attacks in the Afghan capital over the past few weeks.

At least 50 people, mostly schoolgirls, were killed and more than 100 wounded in an explosion at an educational center in Kabul on Friday.

The victims were Shiite Muslims. ISK has declared a religious war against Shiites.

On Wednesday, a bomb blast at a mosque near the interior ministry in Kabul killed at least four worshippers and wounded 25 others, Taliban authorities confirmed.

Rejecting foreign counterterror cooperation, the Taliban claim they are capable of routing ISK in the country on their own.

Experts say ISK has proven to be a potent threat in Afghanistan as it is seriously challenging the new Taliban regime.

Speaking at an event at the New American Security, David Petraeus, former director of the U.S. CIA, said ISK is trying to plunge Afghanistan into sectarian wars as seen in Iraq in 2006-08.

Counterterror violation?

“It is very difficult to ascertain the authenticity of the confession clips being put out by the Taliban intelligence regarding ISK funding and arrests,” Obaidullah Baheer, an Afghan analyst, told VOA.

The brutal animosity between the Taliban and ISK is widely reported, but the Taliban also are accused of allowing or ignoring other foreign terrorist groups as they establish an active presence in Afghanistan.

In July, a U.S. drone strike killed the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in downtown Kabul and U.S. officials accused the Taliban of violating their counterterror commitments made under a U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020 in Doha.

The Taliban have not yet confirmed al-Zawahiri’s death in Kabul but have accused the U.S. of violating Afghanistan’s aerial sovereignty.

“Nowhere in the [Taliban-U.S.] agreement does it demand that the Taliban expel al-Qaida from Afghanistan, nor does it demand that the Taliban break ties with al-Qaida,” said Lisa Curtis, an expert at the Center for a New American Security who previously took part in U.S. negotiations with Taliban representatives in Doha.

“It says that the Taliban will not allow al-Qaida to threaten the United States and its allies from the Afghan soil,” Curtis said at an event last week.

U.S. officials say that, in addition to al-Qaida, the Taliban have allowed members of several other foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Ansarullah and Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The Taliban deny such allegations and maintain they will not allow foreign actors to use Afghan territory against any other country.

“There is some fear that the Taliban lack the will to control al-Qaida and lacks the capacity to halt IS terrorism, although it is also possible that the Taliban's internal divisions would impede any effort versus al-Qaida, even if some top leadership wished to crack down,” Martha Crenshaw, an expert of international security at Stanford University, told VOA.

Talk or not talk to Taliban?

While the U.S. has used so-called over-the-horizon military and intelligence capabilities to neutralize terrorist threats from Afghanistan, some analysts say the U.S. and other international actors should engage the Taliban politically for counterterror objectives.

“The international community and the Taliban are both in a prisoner’s dilemma, which is a direct result of lack of communication,” said Baheer, noting that the U.S.’ dual policy of simultaneously deploying drones and swapping prisoners with the Taliban has created confusion in the region.

“Communication will create grounds for trust and a sense of what either side expects from the other,” he said.

Others question the reliability of Taliban both as a counterterror partner and as a legitimate Afghan government.

“We can’t simply engage them,” said Curtis, of the Center for a New American Security, while accusing the Taliban of systematic human rights violations, including denying education and work rights for Afghan women.

“Some will argue that we need to engage [the Taliban] in order to encourage stability in the country. I think that this logic is flawed because the Afghans themselves are going to resist infringement on their rights and freedoms, and they're going to join resistance,” she said.

Despite imposing sanctions on them, the U.S. government has maintained limited contact with the Taliban over the past year. U.S. officials have said removal of sanctions and recognition of the Taliban regime is not on their agenda in the near future.