Pushed to the Brink Again, Islamic State’s Afghan Affiliate Claims Deadly Attacks

As mourners gathered for the funeral of an influential police commander in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest, Smokes rises from a hospital after gunmen attacked in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 12, 2020.While officials have yet to confirm IS-Khorasan’s involvement in either of the attacks, some say such claims should serve as a warning that the group’s ability to survive adversity should not be underestimated. “It would be premature to say that the organization as a whole has been neutralized or defeated,” an international counterterrorism official told VOA prior to Tuesday’s bombing. “The history of ISIL-Khorasan up to now is that they have been reasonably resilient,” he added, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the intelligence. That counterterrorism officials are even willing to think along those lines, according to some analysts, is a testament to the group’s tenacity in the face of multiple setbacks. The most recent blow against IS-Khorasan came earlier this week, when Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced the Map of Kunar province, AfghanistanBy mid-March, survival for IS-Khorasan in the region had become nearly impossible. “The entire province of Kunar was cleared of Daesh criminals,” Taliban officials announced, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym. Some intelligence estimates suggested the FILE – Afghan Special Forces inspect a cave used by suspected Islamic State militants in the Achin district of the province of Nangarhar, Afghanistan, April 23, 2017. The U.S. dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast on the cave and tunnel system.In April 2017, the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on a key IS cave and tunnel system in Nangarhar province. Over the next several months, a series of subsequent strikes killed the then-IS-Khorasan emir and his replacement and cut the estimated number of fighters from 3,000 to 600. Only two years later, IS-Khorasan’s number had grown almost eightfold. This time, IS-Khorasan may not have the luxury of established havens, but it continues to find a way to hold on. “ISIS-K does still have an operational network in Kabul and a presence in eastern Afghanistan,” according to Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It just isn’t clear how big they are at this point. That is, how much overall capacity ISIS-K has left,” he said. In a country still wracked by fighting and instability, and home to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 foreign fighters, intelligence and counterterror officials warn it is not impossible for IS-Khorasan to revive itself and regain its footing.  

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