20 April 2016- Vancouver, CA

by Stewart Webb

Yesterday, an attack involving a suicided bomber in a car (SVBIED) and gun assault targeted the headquarters of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). It has been a some time since the world’s attention has been focused on Afghanistan as it has been with these events. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which killed more than 64 people and injured more than 347. Approximately 30 members of the NDS were among those killed in the attack.  A second blast was reported in central Kabul at a restaurant but there was no indication of any possible casualties or who was responsible.

The attack in Kabul has been the deadliest of the Taliban’s latest spring offensive, but it has not been the only attack.The Afghan Army was able to repel a Taliban attack on the city of Kunduz only a few days earlier.  It should be noted that the Taliban were able were able hold Kunduz for three days last year. Only to be driven out by a two-week counteroffensive that was supported by U.S.-airstrikes. It was the Taliban’s biggest foray into an urban area since 2001. Taliban activity has been steadily rising in Afghanistan. This spring’s offensive named Operation Omari, after  Mullah Omar, who the Taliban claim “pacified 95 percent of our nation’s territory from wickedness, corruption and oppression, and vanquished the maligned and wicked.”  This has served as a rallying cry for those disaffected with the current administration.

Institute Study of War, Harleen Gambhir, February 2016
Institute Study of War, Harleen Gambhir, February 2016

This year the Taliban has been able to gain a stronger foothold in the country than it has held for some time because of several factors. The Institute of the Study of War came out with a map of Taliban-controlled territory in February (on the left) illustrating as much. One of the factors is, of course, that there has been a significant withdrawal of NATO forces from the front lines and those that have stayed are continuing with support and training missions. The Czech contingent recently announced that they would continue with the mission until 2018. However, Few ISAF members have continued their mission and those who have, have reduced the mission scope and their numbers.

The Taliban’s upsurge may also have less to do with ISAF’s withdrawal than the rise of the ISIS Khorasan chapter. Some regional groups have pledged an allegiance to ISIS, albeit the regional Khorasan group, which has complicated things a tad. It should be noted that as recently as the end of last year the the Taliban was seen to be a weak organization. In fact, it was on the verge of splitting into rival factions, because of the news that  Mullah Omar had been dead for over two years and that Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor had uncontestedly took his place. In fact, the leadership feud did spark the creation of the High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate, which is headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasool. This is not the only group that the Taliban has had to contend with as of late.

There has been many reports that have aggrandized the ISIS Khorasan franchise. However, it should be remembered that the Khorasan franchise was formed out of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), which the Afghan Taliban did not share an agreeable relationship with. Many forget that the origins of the Khorasan franchise is rooted in Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman declaration of the groups’ allegiance. However, after the leadership found out they dispelled him and his few followers, which created the franchise. The Khorasan franchise has been seen stepping up its recruiting in Pakistan in recent months.

The formation of the ISIS-supporting Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan franchise is not the only worrying group for the Afghan Taliban as of late.Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has pledged allegiance to ISIS and are sympathetic to their cause. This means that the IMU is also supportive of the Khorasan franchise, as well as seeking advice, material, and recruits from ISIS. This is also a two-way door as those who are unable to travel to Iraq, Syria and Libya have a couple of local affiliated organizations that they can lend their support to. IMU already had a presence in Afghanistan given the Uzbek minority in the north, and how IMU violence has spread into Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. But this has been a cacophony of militancy. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), which is a splinter cell of the IMU, is now loyal to the Afghan Taliban. There are more than a dozen other groups in the country and for the most part they have supported the Taliban with monetary and personnel support in a form of rent.

The Afghan Taliban’s resurgence should be seen as a reassurance, but also an indication that more violence will follow. There might be new kids on the block in Afghanistan, but the Afghan Taliban has been doing its utmost to stymie the efforts of their insurgent competitors, while bolstering their own.  In the past few days, it was reported that several Khorasan leaders have defected to the Afghan Taliban.  This could have been part of the Taliban’s ongoing outreach program for ISIS defectors.  In all, it should be remembered that there is a great chasm between ISIS groups and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups. ISIS in the Middle East follows a strict form of Salafi-Takfiri Islam, while the Afghan And Pakistan Taliban follow the South Asian Deobandi tradition – as does Lashkar-e-Taiba and various other groups. The Khorasan surge can be explained that those who are amiable to the Salafi approach to Islam have been swayed to join their ranks, but those who have been frustrated with the Afghan and Pakistani groups have joined their ranks because ISIS is now popular globally. The UK Foreign Office pout it succinctly that ISIS and al-Qaida were head to head in the “Battle for the Ownership of the Global Jihad“. At the time of the Foreign Office’s publication, ISIS had made little headway in South Asia and South-East Asia, but now Afghanistan is ground zero.

The Taliban needs to prove that they are the Afghan insurgency, not Khorasan, not IMU, nor any other group. The Taliban has been hitting hard because they need the exposure, and attention to bolster their position in the global media and in the peace talks with the Afghan government. It is now a matter of chest-thumping and bomb exploding. It is a sad fact and the through this the Taliban will sway Khorasan fighters, and other insurgent groups and this will ultimately bolster their ranks, and resolve. It will also cause the other groups to lash out and try to gain some victories and attention.


Feature Photo: “British Lt. Col. Andrew Harrison, 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment commander, conducts a shura with Tor Ghai village elders after ISAF and ANA secured the village during a recent operation”, ResoluteSupportMedia, Flickr, 2016

Inset Photo: “Map of Taliban incursion”,  Institute of the Study of War, Harleen Gambhir, 2016.

DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.

By Stewart Webb

The editor of DefenceReport and Senior Analyst, Stewart Webb holds a MScEcon in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and a BA in Political Science from Acadia University. A frequent guest on defence issues for CTV National News, and other Canadian media outlets, his specialities include commentary on terrorist/insurgent activity and Canadian defence issues. Stewart can be contacted at: [email protected]