ISKP’s Ongoing Attacks Highlight Taliban Security Challenges

Key Takeaways and Analysis

On November 2, the Islamic State’s Khurasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for an attack on a major hospital in Kabul. The attack killed dozens of people, including the commander of the Taliban’s Badri Brigades (special forces) who also happens to be a senior Haqqani Network commander. 

This comes amid nearly daily ISKP attacks in Afghanistan—most of which target the Taliban—and a few weeks after ISKP committed another mass-casualty attack against the country’s Shia minority, highlighting the Taliban’s inability to provide the security they promised Afghans, including to their own members. Furthermore, the Taliban’s ongoing campaign against the country’s Salafist communities risks further exacerbating sectarian tensions and boosting recruitment for ISKP, whose members—unlike the majority of Afghanistan’s population—are Salafists. 

Related reading: What the Taliban’s Victory in Afghanistan Means for Al-Qaeda and ISIS

The convergence of these factors points to a likely escalation in violence in the short to medium term, as the Taliban seeks to dismantle a group intent on challenging its promise to Afghans and the international community: deliver security and deny terrorist groups the ability to operate in the country.

  • ISKP Targeting Taliban: On the same day as the hospital attack, ISKP fighters in Jalalabad carried out three separate attacks against the Taliban, killing two fighters and a judge. ISKP has launched more than 50 attacks against the Taliban since the latter’s takeover of the country, roughly 80% of which have targeted them. Rahmani is the most senior Taliban leader to be killed in that period and his death will likely usher in a more aggressive response from the Taliban (and the Haqqani Network).
  • Anti-Salafist Campaign: Most of the Taliban (and most of Afghanistan’s 90% Sunni Muslims) are followers of the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, and not Salafists like most members of ISKP and jihadists overall. Since taking over the country, the Taliban have been increasingly targeting the country’s Salafist community, suspicious of their loyalty and potential support for ISKP. These actions include detaining and allegedly killing influential figures, as well as closing mosques and madrassas. The Taliban’s anti-Salafist policies will likely contribute to the growing sectarian tensions and likely bolster ISKP recruitment.   
  • ISKP-Taliban Competition: Both before and after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, ISIS has repeatedly attacked the Taliban’s legitimacy and jihadist credentials both physically and ideologically, likely in part to attract disgruntled Taliban fighters and expand its outreach. This trend will likely continue as the fighting looks set to intensify between both groups.

Related reading: Applying the Threat Intelligence Lifecycle for Physical Security

ISIS Claims Hospital Attack

ISKP’s latest attack targeted a large military hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul. According to ISIS’s claim of responsibility, it involved five attackers: one suicide bomber who detonated his belt at a gathering of Taliban fighters outside the hospital and four gunmen. At least 25 people were killed, including Mawlawi Hamdullah Rahmani, commander of Taliban’s Badri Brigade (special forces) and a senior Haqqani Network commander. Rahmani was among the first senior Taliban commanders to enter the presidential palace in Kabul following the Taliban’s entry into and takeover of Kabul. 

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