By: Javid Hosseini and Samaneh Akhgari
After the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, ISKP has been the most important security challenge for the Taliban. The stormy start of this group's activity in the post-republic era began with a bloody attack on the Kabul airport. During the past two years, ISKP could challenge the Taliban's claim of providing security throughout Afghanistan, by carrying out several bloody attacks against Shiites, Hindus, Taliban forces, and even several senior Taliban leaders. From August 2021 to June 2022, ISKP claimed responsibility for 221 attacks in Afghanistan. Since July 2022, however, the declining trend of these attacks began, and the number of attacks changed significantly. For example in April and May 2023, the number of the attacks were zero. It seems that the intelligence cooperation of the countries of the region with the Taliban government, and the subsequent operations of the Taliban against ISKP hideouts in urban and rural areas, has been a main factor in changing the situation.
Despite the fact that the number of attacks by ISKP has decreased significantly compared to the previous year, which caused the Taliban government to claim victory over ISKP, but with a string of assassination of several Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan, ISKP showed that it still has the ability to challenge the security under the Taliban government.
Due to the importance of ISKP, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as the security arm of the United Nations, periodically examines the latest statue of this group, whose reports are also made available to the public. Two separate teams from the UN Security Council are investigating the statue of ISKP. One team under Resolution 1988, and another team under Resolutions 1267, 1989 and 2253 are investigating the situation of this group in Afghanistan. The first team is responsible for investigating the situation in Afghanistan generally, and the second team is only responsible for investigating terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISKP.
The following table compares the data of the latest reports of these two teams about ISKP. In this report, the team under Resolution 1988 is named Team A, and the team under Resolutions 1267, 1989 and 2253 is named Team B.
Table (1): different findings of two UNSC teams about ISKP activities in Afghanistan
| The number of ISKP fighters
|4000 to 6000
|1000 to 3000
|ISKP sleeper cells
|ISKP small groups
A general look at these two reports (in which the condition of one group has been evaluated by two different teams) indicates a clear difference in their findings which cannot be easily ignored. Both reports have mentioned that their study method was not a field study, and their data were collected through interviews with the officials of intelligence services as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of different countries.
The difference in the number of ISKP fighters
Considering the number of ISKP fighters, the estimation of Team A is twice that of Team B. Although Team B (which gives the number of 1000 to 3000) has stated that some sources also mention the number up to 6000, but probably because more sources have agreed on the number of 1000 to 3000, so this team relies on this number (1000 to 3000), and has probably mentioned 6000 as a disclaimer.
The difference about geographic dispersion
Team A believes in the strong presence of ISKP in 14 provinces, while Team B believes in the weak presence of ISKP in 10 provinces.
Difference about the form of presence
Team A believes that ISKP has training bases in 10 provinces, while Team B (which focuses on the activities of terrorist groups) has not mentioned ISKP training bases in any province.
Team A believes that the sleeper cells of ISKP are present in Kabul and its surroundings, but Team B considers the gathering center of the sleeper cells in eastern Afghanistan.
Team A believes that ISKP has a training base in the north, northeast, and eastern Afghanistan, but Team B believes in the presence of small ISKP groups mainly in the northern and northeastern regions of Afghanistan.
Inconsistency of findings with the ground realities
Both reports jointly report on training bases, sleeper cells and small groups of ISKP in 10 to 14 provinces of Afghanistan. As a result, the geographical dispersion of ISKP attacks, and the number of attacks should also be consistent with these data. However, in the last six months, ISKP has only carried out 10 attacks, and its attacks have been in 5 provinces of Badakhshan, Kabul, Balkh, Herat, and Nangarhar. Therefore, it can be seen that the decrease in the number of attacks as well as the lack of geographical dispersion of ISKP attacks, do not match the data and estimates of the Security Council assessment teams (1000 to 6000 forces in 10 to 14 provinces). The only reason that can be given to justify this inconsistency is that ISKP has taken a period of silence and has made its attacks limited and qualitative, in order to be safe from the Taliban's operations.
It should be noted that the time interval between the publication of these two reports is only 3 months, and it is unlikely that ISKP has been able to implement this amount of changes in terms of the number of forces and geographical displacement in these three months.
In general, the significant differences between the findings of the two UNDC reports, and then the incompatibility of their findings with the ground realities can be due to two reasons: first, the weakness of resources, and the reduction of the field access of foreign forces in Afghanistan; And second, the existence of hidden regional security and political goals. This shows that when facing such reports, one should be more careful, and sometimes look at them with suspicion.
So far, it has been proven that some services and powerful actors influence such Security Council reports which are related to different countries. Experience has shown that sometimes the Security Council and those who have influence on this Council, play a significant role in exaggerating a threat through these types of reports.
Exaggerating the danger of ISKP and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan can make these groups an attractive destination for international fighters, justify the option of putting pressure on the Taliban government, and facilitate the ground for US anti-terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
Considering that these reports were prepared through discussions with the intelligence services and government officials of different countries, it should be seen to what extent the regional countries have a role in these reports. This is a question that can be raised in the Security Council meeting, if there is a single point of view among the countries of the region.
Javid Hosseini and Samaneh Akhgari, are researchers at the Institute for East Strategic Studies.