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Combating ISIS in Afghanistan requires new tactics, on and off the battlefield

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Terrorism in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to recede. Civilians continue to pay a heavy price for a war the dynamics of which they find difficult to comprehend. While the Afghan Taliban may be contemplating peace talks, the Islamic State recently claimed responsibility for a twin bombing in Kabul that left 20 dead.

When the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis touched down in Kabul on an unannounced visit, the message may already have been clear: exhaustive and extensive counter-terror measures are needed to eliminate the Islamic State from Afghanistan.  

The Islamic State is eyeing resurgence and can’t find a better place than Afghanistan.

{mosads}The group’s Afghanistan franchise, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), has wrongly been modeled as an insurgent outfit. It’s not. Taking it down has been daunting because the group operates as a terrorist outfit in an insurgent environment.

Let’s put it this way: Afghanistan is known for its insurgent movements, the latest being carried out by the Afghan Taliban. Everyone who knows or follows the security dynamics in Afghanistan knows that the forces in the country are actually trained to fight insurgents. Insurgents, mostly, employ hit-and-run tactics, including insider attacks on security forces.

A terrorist organization doesn’t operate like this. They launch massive-scale attacks, and diversify their target areas to fool the security apparatus. The mismatch between ISKP tactics and the security forces’ counter-insurgency training creates breathing space for the terrorist organization. We’ve seen how ISKP makes the most of that space.

The security forces need to deal with ISKP differently. Geographical mapping might help. A specialized and targeted deployment of counter-terror and counter-insurgency is needed.

Then, there’s the ideological aspect, which is more difficult and long-term. Terrorism just can’t be defeated on a battlefield. In order to prevent people across the AF-PAK border from falling into the ISIS trap, it is essential to win their thoughts.

If terrorism is to be eradicated in Afghanistan in particular and the region in general, a de-radicalization drive must be carried out with full vigor.

That includes schools, because ISIS knows a true resurgence will depend upon the next generation. People of South Asia dread the possibility of a mushroom cloud, but infiltrated young minds could be equally disastrous.

Where to start? Curriculum and early education reforms. Start across the AF-PAK border, and cultivate the seeds for young receptive minds, the minds that could bring logic, wisdom, and rationality to the table.

Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst who teaches at National Defence University in Islamabad, Pakistan. His research focuses on South Asian security, Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies, and military-related affairs. His commentary has been published by World Policy Journal, Asia Times, RealClearDefense, and The Defense Post, the Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor and others. You may reach him at

Tags Afghanistan Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province Terrorism War in Afghanistan

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