By Syed Zafar Mehdi
With the last US troops beating a hasty and humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, the war has entered a new phase, where Americans and Daesh terrorists find themselves on the same side.
The resurgence of the Daesh terrorist group, on the back of the US exit, has created fresh security challenges for the Taliban-ruled country, in a way that works perfectly to the advantage of Americans.
The country, lying at the crossroads of South and Central Asia, has been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks in recent weeks, from Nangarhar in the east to Kunduz in the north, Kandahar in the south, and the capital Kabul. The ghastly bombings were claimed by Daesh, in its new, more dangerous incarnation.
The aim, it can be argued, is to undermine the newly-established rule of its arch-enemy Taliban and to stir sectarian tensions and civil war in a country with deep ethnic and religious fault lines.
That’s precisely what the Western powers, who spent years in the futile militarily adventure in Afghanistan, have been looking for. The move to freeze $10 billion of Afghan assets has to be seen in the same context, which is primarily designed to bring poor and war-weary Afghans to their knees.
The disastrous end of the US military occupation of Afghanistan two months ago also saw the resurgence of a terrorist group that has long shared a love-hate relationship with the West.
Amidst the chaotic withdrawal of US-led allied forces, Daesh suicide bombers detonated their explosives outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, killing over 170 Afghans, many of them making desperate attempts to flee the unfolding chaos.
Thirteen American troops were killed as well, which prompted the US to launch a drone strike on August 29. The strike, ostensibly aimed at a Daesh hideout, mowed down 10 more poor Afghan civilians. It was a parting gift of Americans to the people they held hostage for 20 years.
In the weeks after the final withdrawal, Daesh terrorists carried out several low-intensity attacks in their stronghold of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, mainly targeting over-ground Taliban fighters. It was the continuation of a long-running turf war between the two groups with competing interests.
In early October, the group went back to its favored mode of urban warfare; suicide bombings. The sprawling Eidgah Mosque in Kabul was targeted on October 3, killing seven civilians. The attack took place during the funeral ceremony of Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid’s mother.
The worst was yet to come. While targeting Taliban convoys and funerals serves the purpose of undermining the newly-established “interim government,” the other and more important purpose is served by attacks on minority groups. In both cases, Daesh has made common cause with Americans.
On October 8, a deadly bombing ripped through a mosque in northern Kunduz province during Friday prayers, leaving over 150 dead, all members of the ethnic Hazara Shia community. A week later, another mosque was bombed in southern Kandahar province, which claimed over 60 lives.
Both attacks, with the same set of victims and perpetrators, bore striking resemblances. The modus operandi was the same and the objective was the same. Victims in both incidents were buried in mass graves, and like always reduced to cold statistics in the Western media.
Daesh, which first made inroads into the Hindu Kush country in late 2014, has fought pitched battles with the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan all these years. At the same time, it has played the sectarian card by targeting the Hazara Shia community, as was clearly evident in recent weeks.
Ironically, what Daesh is doing is no different from what the successive US-backed regimes in Kabul have done for a long. Except that the latter didn’t claim responsibility for any act of terror. They paved the way for it and refused to take any measures to put a stop to it. That, I suppose, is more reprehensible.
The narrative that the US military-industrial complex has contributed to the growth of terrorism perpetrated by Daesh in Afghanistan has been gaining ground for quite some time now.
The US-led coalition, despite the staggering $2-trillion investment and the most advanced weaponry and intelligence, failed to eliminate terrorist groups like Daesh in Afghanistan, which lends credence to the theory that the group essentially serves America’s objectives in the volatile region.
Taliban officials have unequivocally blamed the US for Daesh terrorist group’s resurgence. Ahmad Yasir, an official at the Taliban’s political bureau in Doha, was recently quoted as saying that there is evidence to suggest that recent attacks on Shia mosques in Afghanistan had a “malicious foreign hand” behind them.
Qari Sayeed Khosti, who handles social media for the Taliban, also held Americans responsible for recent Daesh bombings. He refused the group’s cooperation with the US in fighting Daesh, saying the group had made comeback with the help of the US and the former Afghan government.
Hezbollah resistance movement leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech last week also stressed that the US must take responsibility for Daesh’s presence in Afghanistan, accusing Americans of shipping Daesh terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan.
This claim, dismissed as a conspiracy theory by Western pundits, has been often repeated by credible military sources. There are also reports that the Taliban’s interim government has been unable to locate the previous government’s security files, which include critical information on Daesh. The files allegedly were discarded by the US forces fleeing the country in utter haste.
Interestingly, in the months before the US-led coalition forces left the country, some 8,000 to 10,000 terrorists made their way to Afghanistan from Central Asia, North Caucasus, Pakistan, and China’s Xinjiang region, according to a United Nations report released in June.
Most of them were recruited by Daesh, which was evident from the Kunduz mosque bombing that was allegedly carried out by an ethnic Uyghur.
What is remarkable is that these foreign terrorists slipped into the country under the nose of US and NATO forces.
Americans had the intelligence, but the political will was missing. Top US military commander Mark Milley went on record recently saying there is the possibility of a broader civil war, reconstitution of Al-Qaeda, and growth of Daesh.
But no action has been taken because Americans now see Daesh as a potential proxy to continue their botched mission in the war-ravaged country.
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Tehran-based journalist, editor, and blogger. He has reported extensively from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Iran for leading publications worldwide.