The bombings in Kabul that took the lives of more than a dozen U.S. troops, and nearly 100 Afghans, appear to be the work of Islamic State’s “Khorasan Province” (ISKP or ISIS-K), the group’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In negotiating the current withdrawal from the country, the U.S. government has claimed that the Taliban might in fact restrain both al-Qaeda and ISKP. While ISKP and the Taliban have indeed fought in recent years, such a plan will never work, as Kyle Orton explains:
The Taliban cannot fight al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s leader, and on the battlefield they are completely intertwined. One of the most visible Taliban leaders in Kabul has been Khalil Haqqani, who is a senior operative in the Haqqani Network. This network is deeply woven into al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and has leaders simultaneously holding senior positions in the Taliban. These organizational overlaps are reinforced by family ties. In short, there is no real-world distinction between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
There is a distinction between the Taliban and ISKP, and indeed a venomous hatred. But what is clear from the attack at the airport is that either the Taliban was complicit—by halting an evacuation of Afghans who helped [the West]—or the Taliban was unable to stop this. In either case it is risible to suggest that the Taliban can assist in counterterrorism.
At root, the distinction between ISKP and the Taliban is [that] ISKP is a non-state actor and the Taliban is a wing of the Pakistani state. The network of jihadists that has just taken over Afghanistan—led by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network—is just the latest iteration of Pakistan’s jihad project in Afghanistan, which began no later than 1974.
It is too late to save Afghanistan, but at least it might set us—at long last—on a better policy track in dealing with Pakistan as it is: a state sponsor of terror that has killed thousands of our people and tens of thousands of Afghans.