ISIS-K – which has been blamed for deadly bombings in Kabul today which have killed dozens at least – is the regional affiliate of ISIS that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It was set up in January 2015 in murky circumstances and is considered the most extreme and violent of all the groups opposed to Western occupation in Afghanistan.
In 2015 it appointed former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan fighter Hafiz Saeed Khan as its leader with former Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Rauf Aliza appointed as deputy leader. Aliza was killed in a U.S. drone strike in February 2015 while Khan was killed in a U.S. airstrike in July 2016.
The group is thought to have around 2,000 fighters and recruits from both Afghan and Pakistani jihadists, especially defecting members of the Afghan Taliban.
Its origins are unknown with different groups blaming the Americans, the Pakistanis, the former U.S.-backed Afghan government and even the Afghan Taliban for their creation.
ISIS-K have been blamed for some of the worst atrocities in recent years, targeting girls’ schools, Shias, hospitals and even a maternity ward.
Unlike the Taliban, whose interest is confined to Afghanistan, ISIS-K are part of the global network that seeks to carry out attacks on Western targets wherever they can reach them.
ISIS-K have major differences with the Taliban, accusing them of abandoning jihad and the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement with the Americans in Doha, Qatar.
They have also suffered significant casualties in clashes with both the U.S. and Afghan security forces, and also with the Taliban.
ISIS-K could represent a major security challenge for the incoming Taliban government.
The ISIS-K operation in Kabul today could delay Western evacuation operations beyond the August 31 deadline, which could lead to renewed hostilities between the Taliban and foreign forces in the country.
This would be particularly likely if the United States retaliates for the attack, which is likely following the deaths of U.S. personnel.
Such retaliation could possibly endanger U.S. relations with the Taliban in the event the group views ongoing U.S. military operations in the country as a breach of their agreement for foreign forces to withdraw.