June 11, 2019
JALALABAD, Afghanistan: The Islamic State group has lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq but is expanding its footprint in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.
There, the group is recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks in the United States and other Western countries.
Nearly two decades after the US-led invasion, the extremist group is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities and its strategy of targeting civilians, both in Afghanistan and abroad.
Concerns run so deep that many have come to see the Taliban, who have also clashed with IS, as a potential partner in containing it.
A US intelligence official based in Afghanistan says recent attacks in Kabul are “practice runs” for even bigger attacks in Europe and the United States.
The Islamic State affiliate appeared in Afghanistan shortly after the group’s core fighters swept across Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, carving out a self-styled caliphate, or Islamic empire, in around a third of both countries.
The Afghanistan affiliate refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, a name applied to parts of Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia in the Middle Ages.
The IS affiliate initially numbered just a few dozen fighters, mainly Pakistani Taliban driven from their bases across the border and disgruntled Afghan Taliban attracted to IS’ more extreme ideology.
While the Taliban have confined their struggle to Afghanistan, the IS militants pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the group in the Middle East, and embraced his call for a worldwide jihad against non-Muslims.
Within Afghanistan, IS launched large-scale attacks on minority Shiites, who it views as apostates deserving of death.
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