The Elimination of Sanaullah Ghafari: A Major Blow to ISIS-K


The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has emerged as a potent threat not only to Afghanistan but also to its neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan. The extremist group’s activities in the region pose significant security challenges and require a comprehensive approach to combat the menace effectively.

The proximity of Afghanistan to Pakistan makes the threat of ISKP a significant threat. The group has demonstrated its capability to launch cross-border attacks, exploiting porous borders and weak law enforcement infrastructure. Pakistan has faced the brunt of ISKP’s activities, with the group orchestrating multiple attacks targeting civilian gatherings, security forces, and religious minorities.

ISKP’s threat to Pakistan extends beyond physical attacks. The group aims to exploit existing fault lines within Pakistani society, sowing sectarian divisions and inciting violence. Their agenda includes destabilizing the country, undermining governance, and fanning religious extremism. Pakistan’s security apparatus remains vigilant, undertaking counterterrorism operations to neutralize the group’s networks and prevent further attacks.

In the recent development in the fight against terrorism, the second-in-command of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), Sanaullah Ghafari, also known as Shahabul Muhajir, has been eliminated in an operation conducted by Afghan interim regime special forces. This significant achievement comes as a major blow to ISIS-K, as Ghafari was a key figure responsible for numerous attacks in Afghanistan and beyond. Let’s delve into the details of this operation and the impact it has on the region’s security.

The elimination of Sanaullah Ghafari through an operation targeting the terrorist took place in Shakardara district, located north of Kabul. Shakardara was known to be a stronghold for ISKP, with an extensive network operating in the area. Ghafari, who hailed from the native district of Shakardara, played a crucial role within the organization. He served as the deputy to Sanaullah Ghafari, the leader of ISKP, and was responsible for overseeing the group’s intelligence and operations.

Engineer Umar, as Ghafari was also known, initially held the position of the leader of the central division of ISKP, and he was previously responsible for Kabul province. His elimination is a significant milestone in the fight against ISIS-K, as he directly masterminded several attacks in Kabul, including those targeting diplomatic missions, mosques, and other high-profile targets.

Pakistan has reason to be relived because the IS-K specifically targeted the nation’s envoy by carrying out an attack on its embassy in Kabul last December. Ghafari is described as “the most ambitious leader of the affiliate” in the 14th report of the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which was at the time still in existence. It claims that Ghafari stood out from other IS-K leaders because he had attracted more educated people to the group and even opened recruitment to non-Salafists.

Ghafari’s Sanaullah extensive terrorist activities reign of terror extended beyond Afghanistan’s borders. He was involved in orchestrating attacks in neighboring countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. His role in planning and executing these acts of violence made him a highly wanted individual not only in Pakistan but also at an international level.

Among the notable attacks linked to Ghafari are the suicide bombing at an Imam Bargah in Peshawar, the jailbreak in Nangarhar, rocket attacks in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and the explosion at the shrine of Shah Chiragh in Iran. These incidents, along with numerous others, bear testament to his malevolent influence in the region.

There is international recognition of Ghafari’s threat as the danger posed by Sanaullah Ghafari did not go unnoticed by the international community. In December 2021, the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union designated him as a global terrorist and included him in their sanctions list. This recognition underscored the severity of his actions and the need to bring him to justice. Furthermore, a reward of up to $10 million was offered by the Rewards for Justice program for information leading to his location or identification. This substantial reward reflects the significance of Ghafari’s role within ISIS-K and the urgency to neutralize his influence.

This has significant impact on regional security the elimination of Sanaullah Ghafari serves as a significant milestone in the fight against ISIS-K and terrorism in the region. It disrupts the leadership structure of the group and severely hampers its operational capabilities. The removal of such a high-ranking member will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the organization, causing internal disarray and a loss of morale.

The Afghan regime’s special forces and their international allies have showcased their commitment to dismantling terrorist networks operating in the region. This successful operation demonstrates the effectiveness of intelligence-based operations (IBOs) and the importance of collaboration between nations in combating terrorism.

ISKP’s extremist ideology and penchant for violence have the potential to fuel sectarian tensions, exacerbate existing conflicts, and hinder efforts for peace and reconciliation in the region. The porous borders and ungoverned spaces in the region provide fertile ground for ISKP’s recruitment and training of militants. The group capitalizes on grievances, socioeconomic disparities, and weak governance structures to gain a foothold in vulnerable areas. Their ability to exploit existing conflicts and establish alliances with other extremist groups further complicates the regional security landscape.

Efforts for regional cooperation and intelligence sharing are crucial in countering the threat posed by ISKP. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other affected countries must collaborate closely to disrupt the group’s networks, enhance border management, and address the root causes of extremism. Moreover, international support and assistance are essential in building the capacities of regional actors and promoting sustainable peace and security. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) continues to pose a persistent threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region as a whole. Their activities in Afghanistan, coupled with cross-border attacks, highlight the urgency for robust counterterrorism measures and regional cooperation. Addressing the underlying causes of extremism, strengthening governance structures, and fostering socio-economic development are vital components of a comprehensive strategy to counter the influence of ISKP and ensure lasting peace and stability in the region.

Asma Khan
Asma Khan
Author is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. Student of Defense and Strategic Studies, and a M.Phil. Scholar from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan Reached at asmakhandurrani595[at] She tweets @AsmaKhan_47


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