Local expert explains the difference between the Taliban and ISIS-K

El Paso News

In this Aug. 21, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Marines, U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, provide assistance at an evacuation control checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — By now we’re all familiar with terms like “Taliban,” “ISIS” and “ISIS-K,” but the three religious groups are radically different.

KTSM 9 News spoke one-on-one with retired Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, who served as Commanding General of Fort Bliss from 2010 to 2013 and later commanded soldiers on the ground combating ISIS in Iraq over the summer of 2014, to learn more about the different groups.

ISIS-K formed more than five years ago and functions as an affiliate of ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The founders of ISIS-K were militants who left the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban organizations. 

“ISIS-K — and it’s not the same ISIS that we fought in Iraq and Syria — but it’s certainly an affiliate, and the K stands for ‘Khorasan,’ which is kind of the ancient term for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — that whole area,” explained Pittard.

To put it simply, the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS-K are enemies. The Taliban resisted retaliation against its many enemies once it sacked Kabul, with the exception of ISIS-K. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, “The only known execution since the capital’s takeover was of Abu Omar Khorasani, the former head of Islamic State in South Asia.”

Khorasani was reportedly removed from a (former) Afghan government prison by Taliban members and immediately killed. The killing of Khorasani adds to existing hostility between the two organizations with deep-seated ideological conflict.

The Atlantic reports that the founder of the Taliban (Mullah Omar) portrayed himself as “Emir of the believers,” which corresponds to a term from Islam’s classical period, caliph. The caliph is a leader believed to be a divinely guided successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Certain stipulations exist when it comes to being a caliph, which include:

  • There can only be one caliph at a time
  • The caliph must descend from the tribe of the prophet Muhammad 
  • The caliph must be physically whole 
  • The caliph must be alive (explained below)

Omar was partially disfigured after losing an eye and came from a Pashtun clan, not an Arab clan. Moreover, Taliban concealed Omar’s 2013 death for two years.

According to The Atlantic:

“Omar died in 2013, but the Taliban pulled a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ and lied about it for two years. The Islamic State, noting these deficiencies, named its own caliph in 2014 when it took control of parts of Syria and Iraq, and relentlessly mocked the Taliban for being apostate hillbillies out of compliance with even the most basic elements of Islam.

ISIS-K has since seized on opportunities to attack and embarrass the Taliban, with added delight taken in killing Americans.”

Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

“Many of them were born from the old Pakistani Taliban in some ways, but they are the more hardcore Taliban, who think the Taliban that just took over Afghanistan are really too soft,” said Pittard.

ISIS-K poses a threat to the sovereignty of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as the many Afghan refugees who remain in the country and are unable to evacuate.

President Joe Biden said last week that “it is in the interest of the Taliban that ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is.” 

On Tuesday, President Biden addressed the U.S. and vowed to hold the Taliban to their word after stating that Afghan natives seeking to leave the country would be allowed to do so. 

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) sent a statement on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that reads:

“As this military mission concludes, America once again has the opportunity to reaffirm our founding principles by responding to our new challenges at home and abroad with resolve. We must pledge our support to our heroes returning home, welcome our vulnerable Afghan partners with open arms, and engage in diplomacy to protect the people of Afghanistan – especially women and girls. The war has ended but our responsibility to the costs of war has not.”

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar

Somewhere outside Kabul, the man identified as “Khan” and his family remain in hiding but say they are no longer being pursued by the Taliban. 

“For now they are not looking for me, so I am safe from them for now,” he wrote, “but that’s no guarantee about the future.”

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