By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
On August 26, 2021, the world watched in horror when 13 military servicemembers were killed in the Kabul airport attack in Afghanistan. Images of desperate Afghanistan refugees risked their lives attempting to flee the country in the days leading up to the United States military withdrawal from the country were seen around the world. This desperation, which was especially true for former members of Afghanistan security forces and others that supported the United States during the war, extended from their fear of the Taliban.
The Taliban quickly regained control of Afghanistan after a 20-year hiatus of power; at the same time, U.S. troops were providing support and protection for the Afghanistan people. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, fear gripped Afghanistan that the Taliban would impose human rights violations, harsh rule and torture. The fear was also that the Taliban would fail to provide the Afghan people with basic services needed to live adequately.
Who Are the Taliban?
The Taliban are a group primarily made up of Pashtuns, who are Islamic fundamentalists. The Taliban initially emerged as a religious faction following the Afghan War that occurred between 1978 and 1992. In 1994, a group of former fighters from the Kandahar province overcame a local warlord in the region and joined this religious faction.
The group eventually formed what is now known as the Taliban and promised security through its religious fervor; the Taliban took over Kabul and two-thirds of the country by 1996. However, the Taliban created a brutal regime that had their own version of how to maintain law and order through harsh punishment to anyone who resisted them.
In 2019, for example, over 10,000 civilians were injured or killed through armed conflict in Afghanistan. After U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks, over 2,000 U.S. servicemembers were killed in the country.
The Future of Afghanistan
Afghanistan gained attention from the U.S. and the international community after the terror attacks on 9/11. Al-Qaeda’s leader and the planner of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, was hiding in Afghanistan with the help of the Taliban. The Taliban refused to turn him over. This refusal to cooperate with the U.S. resulted in a 20-year war, which was the longest war in U.S. history.
Since the U.S. troop withdrawal in August 2021, the Taliban now exert considerable control over Afghanistan. But while the Taliban are the most powerful group in the country, they are not the only terrorist organization in the country.
ISIS-K and Other Terror Groups Are Likely to Become More Active
ISIS-K and al-Qaeda also have a presence in Afghanistan. ISIS-K is responsible for the explosion outside Hamid Karzai Airport, where over 150 Afghan citizens and 13 U.S. servicemembers were killed. According to NPR, ISIS-K was formed in 2015 by militants who left the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its members pledged their alliance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which was the Islamic State’s leader at the time.
I recently conducted a podcast with Dr. Mahmut Cengiz, an expert with the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. In my podcast, “Taliban and ISIS-K Threaten Stability and Security Around the World,” Dr. Cengiz noted that “ISIS-K appears to target Afghans who worked with the U.S. government and….ISIS-K seems to be one of the most active groups in the future.”
Dr. Cengiz added, “We will be hearing some attacks of ISIS-K in the region especially not only targeting [the] region, but also the Western world.” He observed, “we know that like ISIS or other Al-Qaeda groups, AQAP, Al-Qaeda in the Arab peninsula, Al-Qaeda franchise group, also has targeted [the] U.S. before and has made some attempts targeting the U.S. It wouldn’t be surprising to see in ISIS-K’s agenda that they’re targeting the Western world and especially the United States.”
Terror Organizations in Afghanistan Will Continue to Grow
Since the U.S. troop withdrawal last August, there is reasonable concern that the Taliban and groups such as ISIS-K will grow in strength with very limited resistance. Dr. Cengiz noted that the Taliban has 85,000 full-time fighters with training camps across the country.
The Taliban is well-funded and earns income through activities such as drug trafficking, illegal mining, and other criminal enterprises. In fact, the Taliban earns between $300 million to $1.6 billion in annual income.
In conclusion, there appears to be very little obstructing the growth of these terror organizations in Afghanistan. They are well funded, have little resistance from citizens hiding in fear of them and are not being opposed by the international community.