The Islamic State in Afghanistan’s six-year fight against the Taliban is now entering a new phase following America’s withdrawal. The group’s Aug. 26 Kabul Airport bombing, as well as a recent series of attacks against the Afghan Taliban in Nangarhar province, suggest that this new phase will almost certainly be a bloody one. Worse, the Islamic State in Afghanistan now enjoys a number of new advantages that will be difficult for the Taliban to overcome.
The Kabul airport attack was designed to garner regional and international publicity, demonstrate the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s operational prowess by targeting American personnel, and undermine the Taliban’s legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and the world. The United States responded with an erroneous airstrike on alleged terrorist operatives, which only served to facilitate the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s propaganda and the self-righteousness of its message. The Nangarhar attacks, on the other hand, are a resumption of the group’s direct clashes with the Afghan Taliban. Given the Taliban’s peace deal with the United States and transition into a legitimate political entity, the Islamic State in Afghanistan now has the opportunity to frame the Taliban not only as illegitimate due to its links with the Pakistani state but also as an incompetent collaborator of the West – incapable of providing security and governance for the Afghan people. The Islamic State in Afghanistan has also benefited from the recent escape of thousands of members from prison.