An unnamed Islamic State command team has published an e-book for apprentice terrorists that aims to multiply attacks against civilian targets in the United States and Europe. The handbook likely is a forecast of attacks that will be made in forthcoming months based on the fact that the deadly truck attack in Nice, France July 14, 2016, was preceded five months earlier by an ISIS video promoting murder by Truck.
First released in Turkish on July 3 in the Telegram application ISIS chat rooms, the encrypted social media platform, the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook” gives simple but detailed instructions for burning vehicles, setting forest fires, creating highway accidents, making bombs, vehicular homicide, and bringing down buildings with explosives. The 66-page manual includes 174 illustrations and 7 charts and is written in casual language pitched to younger readers.
Additionally, German language version of Islamic State’s magazine Rumiyah (issue 11 published in July 2017) incited and asked its followers to carry out similar attacks including committing arson with a how-to guide and other dangerous low-tech tactics detailed in the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook.” At the same time, Islamic State social media accounts started a social media campaing called “Lone Wolves to the fields.”
The New Threats: Highway Traps and Forest Fires
The first chapter is titled “Operation Parking is Forbidden,” which suggests that the author may be a veteran terrorist commander having spent time in the Nineveh Plain battles in Iraq. In this section, ISIS cadre are advised to burn their enemies’ cars in retaliation to the bombings of the US-led Coalition forces. Arson is one of the user-friendly weapons: “All you need is some gas and a match.”
Prospected arsonists are advised to be vigilant about CCTV cameras and to carefully plan exit routes. The manual references French radicals who are infamous for burning as many as 1200 vehicles in coordinated riots over a large area. In France, car burning for some youth was a kind of extreme sport. The terrorists know that scores of boys between the ages of 12 and 16 are easy to recruit and without video evidence, these crimes can be hard to solve.
I encountered the challenge first-hand as chief of counter-terrorism police in Turkey in 2012. Our police personnel in the 2-million-person city of Sanliurfa were tied down for weeks with a coordinated campaign of car burnings at the same time of night in distant parts of the city. Unless there is direct intelligence or the perpetrators are caught red handed, countering these campaigns is a rubix-cube test for police.
Chapter two and three broach entirely new frontiers of terrorism in the West: triggering highway accidents and causing forest fires.
Chapter two is dedicated to “Causing Road Accidents.” The manual claims that the infidels had already chosen the “wrong way” and now “it is time to ensure their cars go the wrong ways, too.” The recipe for this attack calls for 40 liters (12 gallons) of motor oil of grease (or even kitchen vegetable oil) and applying it 50 feet before entering the highway curves so that the drivers would lose the control of their cars.
Another method to cause accidents, the reader is advised, is by blowing up car tires on vehicles in motion. This entails creating road traps and concealing them so that accidents would happen after drivers run over them. ISIS even provided statistics about road accidents and how many people are dying due to accidents around the world and in the United States. According to the manual, every year 37,000 people die due to road accidents in the U.S. costing over $230 billion dollars to the budget.
The third chapter gives instructions on how to cause forest fires. Readers are given the steps to making napalm-like explosives, taught how to ignite the explosives remotely and where to place the explosives in a forest. In addition to electronic ignition, the manual describes more primitive ways, including acid-and-match combinations. The latter basically delay a fire as the acid melts nylon covers to ignite the fire. The budding arsonist learns how to accommodate for humidity, wind conditions, elevated land and to choose forests close to residential housing.
Terrorists are strictly advised about their own security, too, since getting caught up in the fire they cause can lead to loss of face.
The fourth section, titled “the ultimate human lawn mower” is about the use of vehicles to kill, first promoted in a slickly produced music video in January 2016. Since then, this tactic has claimed dozens of victims in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. This section starts with justifications and explanations why the U.S. is a terrorist state and why it is time to have the Americans pay for their crimes. ISIS members are advised to get a large 4X4 truck and to weld knife-like metal blades on bumpers and around headlights to increase the causalities.
Attackers are advised to choose the most crowded places and drive over people as fast as possible to exact the most damage. They are also told not to stop after the first hit and to keep driving over as many victims as possible. Furthermore, the terrorists are advised to choose the routes appropriately to ensure that there would be many other victims after the initial hit. According to ISIS, these kinds of attacks should be considered as suicide missions as in most cases the attackers would be captured or killed. The driver assassins are advised to have weapons if possible and fight back until the very end. Attackers are particularly advised to carry out such attacks in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. They are also instructed to leave a note behind claiming the attack in the name of ISIS.
Bomb Making “in Mom’s Kitchen”
The fifth chapter focuses on demolishing buildings. The manual starts with explaining that there are two ways to tear down buildings or cause explosions: mechanical and chemical. While chemical explosions require some level of professionalism, it is always easier to carry out mechanical explosions, claims the manual. Mechanical explosions are described as mixing a kind of explosive material like gas or gun powder with oxygen and an igniter. ISIS describes the easiest way to carry out such attacks as using the gas or propane tanks or by using already available gas lines to cause explosions. The authors advise several ways to carry out such attacks with several precautions so that the perpetrators are not captured and so that the attack would cause the maximum damage. Attackers are advised not to purchase several propane tanks at the same time not to get the attention of the sales clerks. They are instructed to set up the explosions in a way that the police and firefighters might conclude that the incident was an accident. Terrorists are told not to leave fingerprints and CCTV camera recordings behind. Finally, the attackers are advised which parts of larger buildings to blow up so that whole building could be brought down.
The sixth chapter is titled “the Chefs’ Recipes: Kitchen Fun,” which instructs how to “make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.” A homemade bomb is one of the best ways to carry out attacks in the West because the ingredients are readily and publicly available everywhere and could be reached without getting any attention, according to the manual. Also, in case there is a search of a terrorist’s house, law enforcement would not find explosives and bomb-squad dogs would not be able to sniff them as explosives. Finally, by applying the tactics and methods described in the manual, a lone terrorist could kill several people through simple procedures periodically.
There are four steps. First, they talk about the casings. Second, they instruct how to produce the main ingredients for the explosives from sugar and matches. Third, they detail how to set up the igniter from different day-to-day materials including Christmas bulbs. In the end, future attackers are taught how to build the explosives by using the materials they gathered. The manual also provides ways to make the bombs deadlier by packing nails or metal fragments on the outer walls of the bombs so as to kill more people. For ignition of the homemade bombs, the manual relates how to use batteries, delayed-ignition systems including manual clocks or remote-control systems.
The seventh chapter of the manual is mostly based on al-Qaeda’s previous instructions by code name “Dr. Khateer” (student of Abu Khabab al-Misri in Afghanistan) about how to produce “peroxide” based explosives including “TATP or TACP” through several and in most cases dangerous chemical reaction processes which would require some level of chemistry knowledge. This section explains step by step how to produce peroxide-based chemical explosives in detail with ample pictures to support the production of the materials. The ingredients are readily available at consumer markets. Each step is detailed with extra precautionary measures and with clues to ensure the successful production of explosive materials.
The eighth chapter tells about “remote detonators.” The manual provides in-depth step by step instructions on how to produce remote detonators from car alarms and washing machine timers. This section is also mostly based on Dr. Khateer’s previously produced al-Qaeda manuals. However, the terrorists are provided knowledge and experiences about where to purchase the electronics they need without arousing suspicion.
The ninth and tenth chapters are about the use of handguns and AK-47s for attacks. While the manual provided additional insights and information in the previous chapters, these two chapters chiefly discuss the Makarov handgun and an AK-47 assault rifle. The guns are explained at length, including their parts, how to dismantle them and clean them and eventually how to use them.
Terrorist organizations stay alive with three essential linked elements: ongoing attacks, propaganda through their attacks and continued recruitment based on sensational publicity. For terrorist organizations staying alive means being able to carry out continued attacks, and for ISIS this means attacks in the West. The mounting defeats of ISIS terrorists in Iraq and the rapid loss of territory may be hurting its star power. Therefore, the “Lone Wolf’s Handbook” likely was rushed to its Turkish-speaking followers regardless of the level of their training and education. The manual also echoes the recent calls of ISIS leaders during the recently-concluded 2017 Ramadan to assault Western interests however they can.
How to Defend against the New Threats
The first line of defense is communicating the existence of this manual to first responders and law enforcement agencies. It is essential that even regular officers who are routinely out on the streets have situational awareness of the threat.
Second, officers should be briefed on how to be vigilant regarding these tactics and what to look for in their daily routines. For example, as they drive, they should be checking roads for traps. In particular, they should increase observation of people who are out late at night and must be able to observe if they are carrying anything flammable liquids or LPG/propane tanks.
Third, law enforcement presence on the streets, around critical infrastructures and where high numbers of people present is crucial. Evaluating possible priorities of terrorists in choosing their targets by law enforcement agencies locally and then allocating their resources based on their evaluations is essential in countering such threats. For this, law enforcement and homeland security officers must be able to think like terrorists and should be fed by intelligence agencies.
The dispatch centers, fire departments and the emergency services should be notified about the true nature of the threats and what to expect. The priority for the dispatch centers should be bearing in mind that fires could be terrorist attacks so that the appropriate communication mediums are established with the related agencies after such incidents. It is also imperative to evaluate the 911 calls from the same perspective as often there might be public tips related to such attacks that might implicate terrorism.
A shift in militants’ strategy could shine a more positive light on failed US policy
A paradigm shift in jihadist thinking suggests that the US invasion of Afghanistan may prove to have achieved more than many counterterrorism experts would want policymakers and military strategists to believe.
Similarly, the paradigm shift also hints at the possibility that the presence in a Taliban-governed Afghanistan of various militant Islamist and jihadist groups could turn out to be an advantage in efforts to prevent and contain political violence.
The evolution of tensions and unfolding of differences in the world of Afghan militancy will constitute a litmus test of the shift and how history will ultimately judge the United States’ 20-year forever war in Afghanistan in terms of counterterrorism.
The shift involves a move away from cross-border and transnational acts of violence towards local militancy and the garnering of popular support through good governance based on an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. It is a difference in strategy that constitutes one of the ideological and strategic differences between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
“This is not because (the jihadists’) ideology has softened: It is because they have learned that inviting overwhelming reprisals from modern militaries is the fastest way to forfeit their conquests, squander their influence and be forced to start all over again,” said scholar and journalist, Hassan Hassan, in a lengthy piece of rare up-close reporting on jihadist militancy.
“Contrary to how some understand the US withdrawal in Afghanistan, the lesson extremists are taking from the Taliban’s success is not simply that jihad works but that diplomacy and engagement are a necessary part of the process, which includes reassuring the West about external threats emerging from their areas. What can be gained from parlays in Doha is more significant and lasting than any terror attack,” Mr. Hassan went on to say.
The shift amounts to a return to the pattern of Islamic militancy that historically is rooted in local grievances and conflicts. Mr. Hassan also describes the Islamic State’s transnational jihadism that targets the West, long embraced by Al-Qaeda, as an aberration of that history.
Mr. Hassan’s analysis is supported by research published by The Soufan Group, a research organization established by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who played an important role in the interrogation of captured Al-Qaeda officials and was involved in related cases in the United States and elsewhere.
Analyst Abdul Sayed noted that Al Qaeda, in an effort to prevent the United States from driving it out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has “shifted focus from global terrorist attacks and external operations to supporting local jihadist groups throughout South Asia, and fuelling the narratives that underpin their objectives. This shift helped build resilience, allowing Al-Qaeda to survive despite the massive blows inflicted by the United States and its allies.”
The Islamic State’s loss of its proto-state in Syria and Iraq, and the Taliban victory in Afghanistan appear to vindicate this paradigm shift.
CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward said she walked away from an interview in August with Abdu Munir, the name used by a commander of the Islamic State-Khorasan, two days before it attacked Kabul airport, with the impression that “ISIS-Khorasan is very different from ISIS… in Syria and Iraq. Ms. Ward was referring to the Afghan affiliate as well as the Islamic State itself using common Western abbreviations for them.
Ms. Ward said that “the conversation that I had with this commander did not lead me to believe that they had the same level of transnational ambitions… They’re much more focussed on the Taliban, honestly, than they are on trying to blow up a plane…and they’re much more simple, less sophisticated.”
The jihadist strategy shift would be further vindicated if the Taliban victory also reinforces ultraconservative religious trends in neighbouring Pakistan.
Ultraconservatives and jihadists may take heart from recent opposition by Muslim clerics, including Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for religious harmony, to draft legislation that would ban forced conversions.
As a result, the shift could become one more argument to justify a possible future decision by President Joe Biden to pull US troops out of Iraq and Syria originally dispatched to fight the Islamic State, as part of the emerging contours of a Biden doctrine.
“There is no question that the GWOT has not gone as planned… Yet it would still be wrong – and rash – simply to discard the GWOT as a strategic failure. The fact that consecutive presidents have found it so difficult to extricate the United States from ongoing operations in the greater Middle East reflects the reality of a persistent threat from extremist organisations and their allies… GWOT has been considerably more fruitful than it might first appear,” said analysts Hal Brand and Michael O’Hanlon, referring to President George W. Bush’s global war on terror launched in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Messrs. Brand and O’Hanlon may be painting an overly optimistic picture. In the best of cases, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will only partially live up to their criteria of success laid out in a recent journal article. The Taliban’s policing of jihadists may prevent them from targeting the United States and others but will continue to offer them a safe haven, allowing them to recruit.
“Being a safe haven for global jihadists and acting as a launchpad for attacks against the West are not the same thing. Under the Doha Agreement, the Taliban have committed to preventing attacks being launched from Afghanistan, but they have not pledged to cut off relations with foreign jihadist groups altogether, nor to expel them from Afghanistan,” said Afghanistan scholar Antonio Giustozzi.
Even so, on balance that could turn out to be less of a problem provided the Taliban can keep in check the Islamic State, the one jihadist group that refuses to accept its takeover of Afghanistan or make Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, adopt the shift in strategy. The fata morgana of a Taliban 2.0 could be shattered if large numbers of Taliban fighters defect to the Islamic State in protest against the group’s policing of militants on Afghan soil and/or embracing degrees of social liberalization, particularly regarding women’s rights.
That could prove to be a big if. Question marks about the Taliban’s ability to police those groups that have welcomed its victory and/or pledged allegiance to it have already begun to emerge. Mr. Giustozzi reports that in contrast to Pakistani militants Lashkar-e Taiba and Lashkar-e Jhangvi, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; the TTP and Al-Qaeda have refused to negotiate agreements that would tighten Taliban control by moving them to different parts of the country. Lashkar-e Taiba and Lashkar-e Janghvi are groups seen as having close ties to Pakistani intelligence.
The proposed agreements reportedly stroked with demands put forward by China that the Taliban ensure that militants on Afghan soil are prevented from training, raising funds and recruiting.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, appeared to acknowledge the demands in an interview with the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper. “First, we will not allow any training on our territory. Second, we will not allow any fundraising for those who intend to carry out a foreign agenda. Third, we will not allow the establishment of any recruitment centre in Afghanistan. These are the main things,” Mr. Shaheen said.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson in Kabul, however, last month left the door open on the Taliban’s relationship with the TTP.
“The issue of the TTP is one that Pakistan will have to deal with, not Afghanistan. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani Islamic scholars and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response,” Mr. Mujahid told a Pakistani television program. The spokesman stopped short of saying whether the Taliban would abide by a decision of the scholars.
The TTP is believed to be responsible for a recent spike in attacks on Pakistani security forces, including a suicide attack in Pakistan that killed three paramilitary soldiers and wounded 20 other people. The stepped-up attacks prompted the New Zealand cricket team to last week abandon its first tour of Pakistan in 18 years and abruptly leave the country while England cancelled its visit that had been scheduled for next month.
Similarly, behind the facades, cracks had already emerged between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, prompting the group, like the TTP, according to Mr. Giustozzi, to refuse to negotiate a deal with the Afghans and build support among factions of the Taliban that are more sympathetic to the jihadists.
Al-Qaeda was wary of what the Taliban’s agreement with the United States would mean for the group and suspected the Afghans of having a hand in the killing of several of its senior members in recent years. Al-Qaeda worries, moreover, that Taliban understandings with China and Russia could put its freedom of movement and/or existence into further jeopardy.
Apparently anticipating a Taliban failure to control all jihadists on Afghan soil and/or adoption of the paradigm strategy shift by some major jihadist groups, US intelligence officials predicted that Al-Qaeda would be able to reconstitute itself in Afghanistan and be capable of orchestrating attacks inside the U.S. in one to two years.
Their predictions were bolstered by the return to Afghanistan of Anwar ul Haq Mujahid, a leader of Osama bin Laden’s former “Black Guard,” who allegedly helped plan and orchestrate the jihadist leader’s escape in 2001 as the United States bombed his Tora Bora hideout. Mr. Mujahid, no family of the Taliban spokesman, reportedly returned to Jalalabad to command Taliban forces and foreign fighters in eastern Afghanistan. Several of his associates are said to also be back.
However, Mr. Mujahid’s return does not by definition deny the potential shift in Al-Qaeda strategy that is supported by the Taliban. It could be the Taliban’s way of placating the group as well as the more militant within its own ranks.
“Despite the persistence of the relationship…the Taliban have a strong interest in holding Al-Qaeda in check… It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Taliban provide space and financial support for Al-Qaeda to operate while also restricting the activities of the group to plot and stage attacks,” said scholar Cole Bunzel.
Islamic State threat moves online, expands across Africa
Two decades after the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York, terror networks Al-Qaida and Islamic State – also known as Da’esh – continue to pose a grave threat to peace and security, adapting to new technologies and moving into some of the world’s most fragile regions, the top UN counter-terrorism official told the Security Council on Thursday.
UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the threats posed by terrorist groups, saying that Da’esh continues to exploit the disruption, grievances and development setbacks caused by the pandemic to regroup, recruit new followers and intensify its activities – both online and on the ground.
“Today, we face transnational terrorist threats like Da’esh and Al-Qaida that are enduring and able to adapt to new technologies, but also expanding to include individuals and groups that commit terrorist attacks connected to xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance”, said Mr. Voronkov.
The UN counter-terrorism architecture, largely set up in the wake of the 9/11 attack, helps Member States implement effective frameworks to prevent, address, investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism.
It is also ramping up efforts to help countries adapt to the rapidly changing nature of the threat, which has become more digital and de-centralized in recent years.
Noting that the world is currently witnessing a rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan “which could have far-reaching implications” around the globe, he cited Da’esh’s expanded presence in that country and pointed out that several members of the Taliban have been designated as terrorists by the Security Council.
“We will need to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as launching pad for global terrorism“, stressed the UN official.
He briefed the Council on the eve of the fourth commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, observed annually on 21 August.
Islamic State in Africa
While Da’esh remains focused on reconstituting its capabilities in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Vornkov said the most alarming development in recent months is the group’s relentless spread across the African continent.
The so-called “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” has killed several hundred civilians since the start of 2021 in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, while the group’s “West Africa Province” will likely gain from the weakening of Boko Haram, with additional spillover of terrorists and foreign fighters from Libya.
Meanwhile, the expansion of Da’esh in Central Africa – and especially in northern Mozambique – could have far-reaching implications for peace and security in the region.
“A global response is urgently needed to support the efforts of African countries and regional organizations to counter terrorism and address its interplay with conflict, organized crime, governance and development gaps”, said Mr. Voronkov.
Repatriating women and children
Alongside Da’esh’s expansion in Africa and its rapid shift online, Mr. Voronkov also cited the continued detention of thousands of individuals with alleged links to terrorist groups as another factor exacerbating the threat.
Deteriorating conditions in detention facilities and displacement camps in northeast Syria, in particular, are serving as a rallying cry for terrorist activities. They have already fuelled instances of terrorist radicalization, fund-raising, arms smuggling, training and incitement to terror.
Against that backdrop, he echoed calls from officials across the UN for Member States to voluntarily repatriate all concerned individuals, with a particular focus on children.
In September, the Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will jointly launch a global framework to support countries requesting assistance with protection, voluntary repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals with suspected links to designated terrorist groups returning from Iraq and Syria.
The framework has already been deployed in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Taliban and Al Qaeda: Putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop?
Abu Omar Khorasani was taken from Kabul’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison and unceremoniously shot.
The first and only person to have been executed since the Taliban gained full control of Afghanistan, Mr. Khorasani was the head of the Islamic State in South Asia until he was arrested by government forces last year.
The precise circumstances of his execution are not known. His killing was, however, at least in part designed to send a message to the international community, and particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, including China and Iran, as well as Russia, Central Asia’s security overlord.
The message was that the Taliban were cracking down on foreign jihadists and militants in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khorasani was an easy symbol. The Taliban and the Islamic State, whose ranks of foreigners are primarily populated by Pakistanis and a sprinkling of Central Asians, Uighurs, Russians, Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, and Frenchmen, have long been adversarial. The Islamic State recently accused the Taliban of being more nationalist than pious in their negotiations with the United States.
The Taliban message is a partial truth at best. What is true for the Islamic State is not true for Al–Qaeda and others such as the Uighur Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The Taliban appear to believe that they can get away with the differentiation because they perceived the United States as more focused in the withdrawal negotiations on ensuring that the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militants will not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a base for international operations rather than on getting them expelled from the country.
The perceived US focus may have been rooted in a concern that if Taliban’s hands were forced, they would let militants slip out of the country and not hand them over to authorities. That would make it difficult to control their movements or ensure that they are either entered into deradicalization programs or, if warranted, brought to justice.
“It’s a Catch-22. The Taliban ensuring that Al Qaeda sticks to rule risks putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop. How much better that is than having foxes run wild remains to be seen,” said a retired counter-terrorism official.
Officials of the Trump administration that negotiated the agreement suggest that the continued presence of Al-Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan would violate the accord with the Taliban.
Former Vice President Mike Pence as well as Trump era State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales argued that the deal “required the Taliban…to refuse terrorists safe harbour.”
Russia and China, while publicly more measured in their statements, are likely to share western concerns. Russia held military drills earlier this month with Tajik and Uzbek troops in Tajikistan, 20 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda may have been boosted in recent weeks by multiple prison breaks in which the Taliban freed operatives of Al-Qaeda and other militant groups. It remains unclear however to what degree the breaks will help the group strengthen its presence in Afghanistan.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned this week that al Qaeda and the Islamic State could quickly rebuild their networks in Afghanistan.
The United Nations recently reported that Al-Qaeda “is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces”, and that its affiliate in the Indian subcontinent, “operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces.”
“Without information on who exactly escaped, it is difficult to determine whether historically significant figures remain within AQ’s AfPak network, or if it is mainly composed of newer figures these days, whether local or regional foreign fighters,” cautioned political violence scholar Aaron Y. Zelin. Mr. Zelin was referring to Al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan-Pakistan network.
Also unclear is whether Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran will be allowed to relocate to Afghanistan.
The prison breaks further go to concerns about relying on the Taliban to police jihadists and other militants with aspirations beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Of particular concern is the fact that the balance of power has yet to be determined between Taliban leaders who in recent days have been eager to put a more moderate, accommodating foot forward with security guarantees for their opponents, minorities and women and the group’s far-flung less polished rank and file.
The concern about the Taliban’s ability and willingness to control militant activity on Afghan soil is magnified by worry regarding the continued existence of warlords with the power to organise violence, provide jobs and public services, and forge or strengthen ties with militants.
“Warlords will play an active role in the future of Afghanistan. They will remain businessmen and political leaders, connected to global economic processes and networks. They will develop the military power that they need to control territory and wage war. They will, finally, continue to fight for more autonomy and, in some cases, might even manage to partially form their old regional polities once again,” said Romain Malejacq, author of a book on Afghan warlords.
“Afghanistan’s availability as a sanctuary for terrorists is, to say the least, related to its status as a warlord-ridden wasteland,” said journalist and author Graeme Wood.
The Taliban’s refusal to expel militants not only complicates the group’s efforts to garner legitimacy in the international community and particularly its neighbours, even if Al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened since 9/11 and is less focussed on attacking the United States and more on the Muslim world.
It also strengthens those who fear that Afghanistan will again emerge as a launching pad for trans-national political violence. “We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state—a breeding ground for terrorism,” warned Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They (the Taliban) will not restrict terrorist groups, just ask them to operate low-key,” added Douglas London, a former head of CIA counterterrorism operations for South and Southwest Asia.
The Taliban proved already 20 years ago that they valued loyalty when they rejected US and Saudi pressure to hand over Osama bin Laden no matter the cost. The Taliban have since come to appreciate Al Qaeda’s fighting skills and contributions to the Afghan militants’ cause.
Taliban fighters this week, in a violation of their pledge to inclusiveness, demonstrated their ideological anti-Shiite affinity with Al-Qaeda by blowing up a statue of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Shiite Hazara militia leader killed by the Taliban when they first took power in 1996.
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