Afghanistan fall out – “Every terrorist actor will now feel legitimised

Afghanistan: Last UK evacuation flight leaves Kabul airport

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Thursday’s suicide bomb struck at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands, desperate to flee Taliban rule, huddled outside Afghanistan’s only route to the West. The blast killed at least 95 people including two Britons, the child of a UK national and 13 US Marines and navy medics. IS-K, or Islamic State Khorasan Province, took credit for the attack. Victims included US Marine Sergeant Nicola Gee who, just two days before, was photographed holding an Afghan baby while helping escort evacuees as they filed into the cargo hold of a C-17 Globemaster to escape their war-torn homeland.

And yesterday Nikoui’s grieving father Steve said in a US TV interview he was angry at the conditions in which the Marines – including his son – were forced to endure, describing the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport as being “like a turkey shoot.”

He added: “I’m a carpenter. I’ve never served. But even I could see that that was a dangerous situation. From what I could see of the airport that they were in, it looked like a turkey shoot. It was just so chaotic and not planned out.

“They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security. I blame our own military leaders. Biden turned his back on him. That’s it.”

The Reaper drone, fired from a middle eastern country, struck what the US say is the man responsible for the planning of the attack while he travelled in a car with another IS member in Nangarhar province, close to the porous border with Pakistan, killing them both.

US officials said they are “not aware “ of any civilian casualties, though this was disputed by reports on the ground while other US military sources clarified that the target was not a senior IS-K commander.

Last night some experts suggested the identity of the  IS-K targets had already been known by the US, and warned that the removal of all Nato ground forces would make future hunts almost impossible – even with spy satellites and  the help of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, avowed opponents of Islamic State.

“The US administration is trying to spin this as a success for so-called over the horizon capabilities, But it’s pretty clear that they had this target in the bank already. It will be very different now that Nato troops are out,” said regional expert Kyle Orton.

And with the Taliban unlikely to ever fully control Afghanistan, the threat presented by a resurgent IS-K must be taken seriously, other experts warned.

Some 10,000 jihadis are said to have poured into Afghanistan since the withdrawal of Nato forces was first announced 18 months ago, according to the UN.

Though some have joined Taliban forces, many have gravitated from Pakistan, Chechnya and other parts of central Asia to heed the call from Islamic State. Many are battle hardened, with combat experience and ruthless.

Though the group was structurally decimated by the efforts of the twin operations carried out by Nato and Afghan forces and the Taliban with al Qaeda – only now mounting 80 per cent of the attacks it achieved between 2017-19, it is regaining, with more the number of attacks since January already exceeding the total number of attacks last year.

While IS-K used to operate in only two provinces, now it has cells in nine. Though these are small, they act in the same way as Nato military lilypads did across Afghanistan before its withdrawal – bases which can easily and quickly be reinforced.

IS-K’s  anger at the Taliban, which it accuses of betraying the cause of Jihad by cooperating with the US and striking deals in comfortable Qatari hotels, is already attracting disaffected fighters from the Taliban,.

Despite inheriting  £65bn worth of US military equipment, it is feared that the new rulers of Afghanistan do not have the hierarchical architecture to rein them in.

Yesterday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the airport suicide attack and said the Taliban would be expected to take full control of the airport today,  though a mew deal will see Turkey administer it in the long run.

He said officials had already been appointed to run key institutions including the ministries of public health and education and the central bank.

But Orton added: “The Taliban have no intention of forming a functioning society, with a modern bureaucracy – their view of governorship is based in the Middle Ages. They will never control all of Afghanistan nor do they want to. “What this means is more ungoverned space for IS-K and al Qaeda to flourish- the very thing we went into Afghanistan to stop in the first place,”

The small size of its cells already make finding IS-K “the most difficult challenge any counter terror operation can face,’ said Bruce Hoffman, senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland Security at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

And last night he questioned whether the “unholy marriage of convenience” between Washington and Kabul would last – predicting the Taliban would increasingly turn to China and Russia.

”For Biden to continue to make good on his pledge, the US will need intelligence and human sources. The most sophisticated satellite imaginable cannot peer into someone’s house to check if there’s a terrorist there. So he will need cooperation from the Taliban – to engage with one terrorist enemy against another. This is where we are now,” he said.

While President Biden was bargaining on the hope that the Taliban would become dependent on the US for foreign aid and logistical support, he said: “I suspect Taliban think they can get all these with US interference, and will go to China, Russia and Iran for their legitimacy.

“China boasts about they effective way it deals with terrorism at home  and will be happy to supply the Taliban Government with sophisticated counter-terror technology. The same applies to Russia.

“It seems that every place that the US has called time on so-called forever wars creates a vacuum filled by its adversaries.”

In a podcast to be released next week, former Mi6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove criticised the US’ lack of patience in choosing to withdraw troops now.

“The key issue is the occupation of strategic space,“ he said on the One Decision podcast.

“We made great progress in rebuilding aspects of Afghan society but it needed another 10-15 years. There are many places which have needed longer such as South Korea and Cyprus.”

His anger was shared by the former US Navy SEAL who was part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden.

“My friends who died for no reason would be disgusted with this administration. This president is a disaster,‘ said Rob O’Neill

And the cost of US impatience may be felt across the globe as other Jihadi groups gain inspiration from events, said Africa terror expert Prof Candyce Kelshall, adding:“Every terrorist actor will now feel legitimised to get a seat at the negotiating table to achieve their aims.”

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