On November 2, the Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, accused the United States and Britain of aiding the Afghan terror group known as Islamic State – Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K.
“Americans, together with their British collaborators, are putting their frantic efforts into strengthening the positions and the destructive potential of the Afghan offshoot of Daesh (ISIS), and are seeking to avail themselves of the extremists to alienate Afghanistan’s neighboring states from Moscow.”
Kabulov also said the U.S. and Britain were encouraging Taliban leaders to distance themselves from Russia and China.
Iran’s state-run Press TV uncritically reported on Kabulov’s comments about ISIS-K in an article titled: “US, Britain strengthening Daesh terrorists’ foothold, destructive potential in Afghanistan: Russian diplomat.”
In fact, Kabulov’s claims are contradicted by the actual history of combat between the United States and Islamic State, including longtime U.S. efforts to eradicate ISIS-K and its leadership in Afghanistan.
They are, however, consistent with an old and debunked line of disinformation spread by Iran and others that the United States created Islamic State.
(Asked about Kubalov's remarks, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: "This is just another example of total nonsense from Russian media with the intent to distract and disinform." The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.)
ISIS-K, which operates in Central and South Asia, was set up in 2014 by Pakistani and Afghanistan militants defecting from other groups, including the Taliban, in eastern Afghanistan. The group is an affiliate of Islamic State, which gained global prominence in 2014 after declaring a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS-K has been described by the BBC as the “most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan.” The group has attacked U.S. and NATO forces, Afghanistan politicians, security forces and civilians (particularly religious minorities), and it has hit targets in neighboring Pakistan.
ISIS-K’s most notorious strike was a suicide bombing at Kabul airport on August 26, 2021, which killed an estimated 13 U.S. service members 170 Afghan civilians who were trying to flee the country after the Taliban’s return to power.
That was the deadliest strike against U.S. military in Afghanistan in a decade and came just days before the U.S. completed its withdrawal on August 30, 2021.
Despite the pullout, on September 1, 2021, the U.S. military said it was considering working with the Taliban to combat ISIS-K. Moreover, the U.S. has targeted senior ISIS-K leaders, killing the group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan, in a 2016 drone strike and ISIS-K commander Mullah Abdul Rauf the previous year.
In 2017, the U.S. dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, also known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” on an ISIS-K cave complex, reportedly killing dozens of militants.
Since the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces, Washington and London have expressed readiness to launch airstrikes against ISIS-K in Afghanistan.
The ruling Taliban and ISIS-K are far from friendly. Although both are Sunni Islamic groups, they are at loggerheads over sectarian and other issues, violently so.
In April, a British government assessment of the situation in Afghanistan the Taliban’s ability to contain ISIS-K was “unclear.” Still, it noted that “the Taliban controls the whole country with far superior numbers of military forces, weapons, supplies and use of infrastructure,” adding that ISIS-K attacks “are isolated.”
“Although [ISIS-K has] mounted a number of high profile attacks against civilians, they generally concentrate [explosives] and small arms attacks against Taliban military forces,” the assessment read.
Last month, the Taliban claimed to have killed nine ISIS-K fighters.
The Taliban promised to combat terrorism as part of the 2020 Doha agreement that resulted in the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
The United States has questioned whether the Taliban will adhere to its commitment to stop ISIS-K or other terror groups from using Afghanistan as a base to target the United States, its allies or Afghan civilians.
On July 31, the U.S. killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the Sunni Islamic extremist network al-Qaida, in a drone strike on a residence in Kabul. The house was reportedly owned by a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Al-Qaida, while based in Afghanistan, infamously carried out the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on U.S. soil, prompting a U.S.-led coalition to invade.
Rights groups maintain the Taliban has done little to protect ethnic minorities, particularly those of the Hazara Shia Muslim ethnic group, from ISIS-K attacks. The United States has also condemned violence against the Hazaras.
Last month, Thomas West, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, told the Voice of America that he had met with the Taliban in Doha.
“We discussed the Taliban’s efforts to fight Daesh (another name for ISIS-K). Daesh is a common enemy of the United States and all Afghans. The horrific attacks against Hazaras must stop,” West told VOA.
“The Taliban have made clear that this is their fight and effort, and they will fulfill their commitments outlined in the Doha agreement to ensure that terrorists do not threaten the United States or her allies,” the U.S. envoy said.
Russia, which has established diplomatic ties with the Taliban, was the target of an ISIS-K suicide attack on its embassy in Afghanistan in September. That attack killed six, including two Russian embassy staff.
Iran, a Shia Muslim theocracy, has spread the conspiracy theory that the United States created Islamic State to destabilize the Middle East and serve the foreign policy goals of the U.S. and Israel.
Russia and Iran, both under Western economic sanctions, have inked deals to provide fuel and other goods to Afghanistan.