IS bomb attacks on Taliban raise specter of wider conflict

Sep 20, 2021, 10:26 AM | Updated: Sep 21, 2021, 12:16 am
Afghan drivers and passengers stuck in a traffic jam look at Taliban fighters riding in the back of...

Afghan drivers and passengers stuck in a traffic jam look at Taliban fighters riding in the back of a pickup truck in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The extremist Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly roadside bombs targeting Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan, raising the specter of wider conflict between the country’s new Taliban rulers and their long-time rivals.

A string of explosions struck Taliban vehicles in Afghanistan’s provincial city of Jalalabad over the weekend, killing eight people, among them Taliban fighters. On Monday, three more explosions were heard in the city, an IS stronghold, with unconfirmed reports of additional Taliban casualties.

The Taliban are under pressure to contain IS militants, in part to make good on a promise to the international community that they will prevent the staging of terror attacks from Afghan soil. There is also a widely held expectation among conflict-weary Afghans that — despite fears and misgivings about the Taliban — the new rulers will at least restore a measure of public safety.

“We thought that since the Taliban have come, peace will come,” said Feda Mohammad, a brother of an 18-year-old rickshaw driver who was killed in one of Sunday’s blasts, along with a 10-year-old cousin.

“But there’s no peace, no security. You can’t hear anything except the news of bomb blasts killing this one or that,” Mohammad said, speaking at the family home where relatives and neighbors gathered for a memorial ceremony, drinking black tea and reciting verses from the Quran.

The latest IS bombings come as the Taliban face the daunting task of governing a country shredded by four decades of war. The economy is in free fall, the health system on the verge of collapse and thousands of members of the country’s educated elite have fled. International aid groups predict worsening drought, hunger and poverty.

“Our misery has reached its peak,” Abdullah, a shopkeeper in Jalalabad, said Monday, a day after IS claimed responsibility for the bombings that rocked the city the two days before.

“People have no jobs, people sell their carpets to buy flour … still there are explosions and (IS) claims the attacks,” said Abdullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

The weekend bomb blasts served as a reminder of the threat the militants pose. Just weeks ago, as American and foreign troops completed their withdrawal and frantic airlift from the country, IS suicide bombers targeted U.S. evacuation efforts outside Kabul international airport in one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in years. The blast killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

The events have bolstered fears of more violence, as IS militants exploit the vulnerability of an overstretched Taliban government facing massive security challenges and an economic meltdown.

“They’re making a very dramatic comeback,” Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst said of Islamic State. “There could be a long-term struggle between the groups.”

For now, the Afghan affiliate of IS has shied away from attacks against the West and maintained a local focus, but that could potentially change, Bahiss said.

The aims of the IS affiliate in Afghanistan are different from those of the Taliban, who seized control of the country days before the U.S. troop pullout last month. While the Taliban have fought to gain ground in Afghanistan, the IS chapter seeks to incorporate swaths of the country into a broader self-styled caliphate, or Islamic empire, across the Middle East.

The franchise, largely made up of Pakistani militants pushed across the border by military operations, first embraced the IS call for a worldwide jihad against non-Muslims in the months after the group’s core fighters swept through Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014.

While they share enmity toward American forces and a harsh interpretation of Sunni Islam, the Taliban and IS are sworn enemies. Just as the Taliban battled U.S. coalition troops in the long Afghan war, the group also waged a successful offensive to drive IS militants from their enclaves in the country’s north and east — at times assisted by the U.S. and U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Despite years of U.S. airstrikes and other military setbacks that shrank IS ranks, the United Nations reported this year the group “remains active and dangerous,” a threat to Afghanistan and the wider region. The affiliate has mounted some of the country’s most brutal attacks in recent years on schools, mosques and even a maternity hospital, mainly targeting the Shiite Muslim minority.

The affiliate has increasingly drawn hard-line Taliban defectors and foreign militants disillusioned with what they see as the Taliban’s overly moderate ways. The New York-based Soufan Center said in an analysis on Monday that the franchise poses “one of the most serious risks to future splintering of the Taliban … at a time when the group is seeking to gather strength and play a major spoiler role in Afghanistan.” As a power struggle between pragmatists and ideologues in the Taliban leadership intensifies, the IS branch has ramped up recruiting efforts.

For now, Taliban forces far outnumber IS militants and experts doubt the extremist group poses an existential threat to Afghanistan’s new rulers. But if the bombings continue, said Franz Marty, a Kabul-based fellow at the Swiss Institute for Global Affairs, “it could become a large problem.”

“It’s impacting people’s perceptions. If the Taliban can’t make good on their promise on securing the country, that could turn the tide of public sentiment against them in the east,” he said.

Despite the residents’ concerns in Jalalabad, there had been a marked improvement in pubic safety elsewhere, including the capital of Kabul. Before the Taliban takeover, Kabul had been plagued by a sharp increase in crime, and many residents feared to leave their homes after dark.

But in Jalalabad, the grief-stricken father of the 10-year-old boy killed in Sunday’s blast described the recent attacks as an ominous portent.

“We live in poverty and we don’t have security, either,” said Zarif Khan. “Today, my son lost his life, tomorrow others’ sons will lose their lives.”

___

Faiez reported from Istanbul.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Immigrants gather with their belongings outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2...
Associated Press

Reports: Migrant flights’ mysterious recruiter identified

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The mysterious woman who allegedly lured dozens of migrants on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard from San Antonio has been identified by several media outlets as Perla H. Huerta, a former combat medic and U.S. Army counterintelligence agent living in Tampa. The New York Times reported late Sunday […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Mark Kampf, the winner of the Republican Party primary in the Nye County clerk's race, speak...
Associated Press

Nevada county’s plans to hand-count early ballots challenged

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A rural county in Nevada where conspiracy theories about voting machines run deep is planning to start hand-counting its mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day, a process that risks public release of early voting results. Several voting and civil rights groups said Monday they objected to the proposal and will […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Travelers pass a sign near a COVID-19 testing site in Terminal E at Logan Airport, on Dec. 2...
Associated Press

CDC drops traveler health notices for individual countries

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is scrapping another of its responses to the pandemic. On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its country-by-country COVID-19 travel health notices that it began issuing early in the pandemic. The reason: Fewer countries are testing for the virus or reporting the number of COVID-19 […]
18 hours ago
FILE - This photo provided by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un del...
Associated Press

N. Korea sends missile soaring over Japan in escalation

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, forcing Japan to issue evacuation notices and suspend trains, as the North escalates tests of weapons designed to strike regional U.S. allies. It was the most significant missile test by North Korea […]
18 hours ago
FILE - American Airlines President Robert Isom speaks at a news conference about the company's new ...
Associated Press

American Airlines CEO defends JetBlue deal to federal judge

The CEO of American Airlines said Monday that his airline needed a partnership with JetBlue because Delta Air Lines had bulked up through a merger sooner than American, had more takeoff and landing rights at New York airports, and fewer unionized workers. Robert Isom also conceded that Delta has “run a nice, reliable airline” and […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks during a game of bridge follo...
Associated Press

Buffett’s successor buys nearly $70M of Berkshire stock

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire Warren Buffett’s successor bought nearly $70 million worth of stock in the conglomerate he is slated to one day lead. Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Greg Abel on Monday disclosed buying 168 Class A shares in the company in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The purchases made last […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
IS bomb attacks on Taliban raise specter of wider conflict