A former member of the U.S. State Department said the real purpose of Thursday’s suicide attack in Kabul, which killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans, was “an opening salvo of a civil war ISIS-K is seeking to fight against the Taliban.”
The ISIS-K suicide bombing marked the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since August 2011.
In an interview with Fox News, Christopher Harnisch, former deputy coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, broke down the terrorist group’s motivation for the attack amid the U.S. completing its withdrawal from the country.
“We in the West tend to think of the target being Americans,” Harnisch told Fox News. “The real purpose was to attract potential recruits into its ranks, and also to really launch a civil war against the Taliban and other groups fighting along the periphery.”
The group, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province
or ISIS-K, is an Afghan affiliate of the group’s core leadership in Syria and Iraq. After the Islamic State lost its territory following a five-year military campaign by local and international forces, the caliphate increasingly turned to Afghanistan for its fighters.
ISIS-K was founded in 2015 by several hundred disillusioned Pakistani Taliban fighters. According to Harnisch, the goal of all ISIS factions is “to establish a global caliphate governed by the most extreme and oppressive interpretation of Sharia.”
“With the withdrawal from Afghanistan, ISIS-K sees an opportunity to fill a security vacuum and ultimately try to come to power,” he continued.
In order to gain control of the region, ISIS-K will have to fight the Taliban, which just toppled the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan after a 10-day blitz and currently sits at the helm of the country.
In addition to sparking a civil war with rival militant Islamist jihadi groups, another reason for the attack was to aid the terrorists group’s global recruitment effort.
“ISIS-K knows that in order to achieve success and achieve its vision of setting up a caliphate based in Afghanistan, it’s going to need manpower,” said Harnisch.
A United Nations report in June
found that 8,000 to 10,000 jihadists from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in China have entered into Afghanistan in recent months. According to the report, most are associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, the report said, but others are allied with ISIS-K.
“ISIS-K’s objective was to undermine the credibility of the Taliban by showing Afghans and the world that the Taliban is incapable of providing security,” Harnisch claimed. “The attack was a huge propaganda victory,” he continued. “Aspiring jihadists all over the world saw that and they’re saying, ‘ISIS is the one in charge here.’”
While ISIS-K’s estimated 1,500-2,000 members pale in comparison to the Taliban’s near 80,000, Harnisch said he believes the number of ISIS-K recruits entering into Afghanistan will increase over the coming months following Thursday’s attack.
When comparing ISIS-K with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Harnisch said “tactically speaking they’re very similar,” with all three engaging in “absolutely barbaric, evil terrorist attacks.”
However, he admitted that ISIS-K’s attacks “tend to be about as far on the spectrum of evil as you can possibly be.”
Harnisch specifically recalled an incident in 2020 in which ISIS-K targeted the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, killing 24 people including newborn babies and mothers.
“The Taliban and al-Qaida, though evil organizations and barbaric in their own right, haven’t gone that far in terms of their attacks,” he said.
Despite the Unites States’ desire to disengage from long, drawn-out international conflicts, Harnisch claimed, “the fight against terror, it will continue.”
The former Counterterrorism Director at the National Security Council criticized .U.S leadership for its false promise to “end forever wars.”
“We ended the war in Afghanistan, but I can tell you right now that the war against terror is not over,” he said. “It will continue because we just handed the Taliban, ISIS and al Qaeda, a major victory.”