ISKP Rocket Attack toward Uzbekistan Warns of Terror Threat from Afghanistan
Author: Josephine Freund
May 10, 2022
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has officially admitted that militants associated with the Islamic State Khorasan Province group (ISKP) fired an onslaught of rockets at Uzbekistan on April 18. This admission came after a period of denials from the Taliban of such an attack. This mostly northern Afghanistan-based branch of the Islamic State (IS) is also responsible for the terror attacks at Kabul University and outside of Kabul airport in 2021 that killed 175 civilians and 13 U.S. soldiers.
Some speculate why the Taliban would not immediately acknowledge an attack from a rival militant faction. One reason could be that the Taliban does not want to seem as if it cannot maintain sufficient control of Afghanistan and its security, especially in its bid to change its image in the international community.
According to the news agency of ISKP, Amaq, the militants fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a military outpost near the city Termez, Uzbekistan. While ISKP claimed responsibility for the aggression, Uzbekistan maintains that nothing landed in Uzbekistan as a result of the attack. According to President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s Press Secretary, “No military activity has been observed on the Uzbek-Afghan border, the situation is stable.”
The IS has recently embarked on a series of attacks as part of their recent “Battle of Revenge for the Two Sheikhs” mission, in which it has targeted countries with majority Muslim populations including Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Syria, and now Uzbekistan. The symbolism of this attack in particular goes back to ISKP’s struggle against the Taliban.
ISKP, through highlighting the Taliban’s endeavors to establish relations with other regional governments, has attempted to undermine the Taliban by condemning it as an apostate entity. For example, ISKP has strongly opposed any Taliban cooperation with the United States. The Taliban’s hesitation to formally acknowledge that ISKP did indeed execute this attack stems from the desire to demonstrate to the international community that it can maintain order and control in Afghanistan.
While this affront luckily was not deadly, it warns of a much bigger regional threat. When Kabul fell to Taliban control in 2021, not only did Afghanistan lose many forms of freedom and regional connections, but also it led to the empowerment of various militant groups. In fact, according to a statement from the Pentagon, it was the Taliban who freed some thousands of ISKP militants from the United States’ Bagram prison. The larger threat looming over the region is the increased moves to recruit people across Central Asia to ISKP. Recently, IS has accelerated its recruiting initiatives in this regard through distributing and translating propaganda for Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz-speaking communities in the region.
This increased zeal in IS recruitment is a further threat to already dismal stability in Afghanistan, and a larger threat to the progress of the region as well. In targeting the Taliban, especially by declaring it an apostate entity due to various endeavors of cooperation with formal governments, groups like ISKP seek to enforce an air of confusion and distrust. This can only lead to more in-fighting among Islamic factions in Afghanistan leading, to further destabilization within the country. In turn, destabilization could spill across borders and pose a greater risk of terror threats to Central Asia.
Not only Uzbekistan, but also neighboring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan risk the threat of terrorism and destabilization from militant groups in Afghanistan such as ISKP. Recently, the Taliban pledged up to 30,000 fighters to protect the proposed trans-Afghanistan TAPI natural gas pipeline. This is an example of the Taliban’s cooperation with governments that risks being deemed apostasy by ISKP.
So, while the Taliban itself is no moderate government, the Central Asian countries might benefit from opening channels of communication with the Taliban to establish clear security goals. While empowering the Taliban is not the first choice for many, the alternative in which Afghanistan is rife with competing militant groups would be much worse. Given time, instability and chaos in Afghanistan could spill into bordering countries. Furthermore, regional governments should be aware of the ISKP recruiting boom over different media sources and seek to quell such rhetoric when possible. Finally, there should be an increased initiative to secure Afghanistan’s borders so as to prevent the trans-national movement of extremist activity.