Taliban Challenged by Uptick of Islamic State–Khorasan Province Attacks

Taliban Humvee in Kabul

“The Taliban government has said that it has defeated the Daesh group and will not allow the terrorist organization to use the territory of Afghanistan to pose any threat to other countries… At the same time, the spokesperson of the US Department of State said that the Taliban should remain committed to the fight against terrorism.”

Despite counterterrorism efforts by the Taliban, the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (IS-KP) has been responsible for a series of attacks in Afghanistan since the new year. According to the first excerpted article from Pashto-language public service news Radio Azadi, the Taliban previously stated it had defeated IS-KP; however, recent activity by the group indicates otherwise. Since its inception in 2014, IS-KP has conducted bombing and suicide attacks against both civilian and government targets, mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in an estimated 309 fatalities in 2021.[i] In January 2024, IS-KP claimed responsibility for detonating an improvised explosive device in Kabul, killing two civilians and wounding 14 more. This was the second IS-KP bombing in Afghanistan in less than a week.[ii] These attacks followed the highly publicized IS-KP–-claimed attack in Kerman, Iran, on 4 January, which killed as many as 84 people and injured scores more. Iran called it the single deadliest attack in the country since 1979.

Recent reporting suggests Afghanistan is once again being used as a terrorist training ground—this time by IS-KP rather than al-Qaeda. According to the second excerpted article from the Saudi news source Independent, two IS-KP suicide bombers were arrested in Pakistan and accused of planning to bomb the leaders of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and National Awami political parties.[iii] The captured bombers admitted to receiving training in the Paktia province in Afghanistan, a remote area that shares a border with Pakistan. The article further notes that counterterrorism talks continue between Pakistan and Afghanistan, intended to decrease tension resulting from disagreements on how to handle Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders currently residing in Afghanistan. Although weakened, IS-KP appears able to continue to stage attacks in Afghanistan and the region at large. The Taliban is situated in a delicate position in the region, with any potential missteps in its counterterrorism strategy leading to an IS-KP resurgence. Internal disputes in the Taliban government have led to some Tajik Taliban members in the northern part of Afghanistan being investigated for links to IS-KP. Additionally, the Taliban does not appear to have any intention to reconcile with communities formerly linked with IS-KP, which could be a source of additional recruits for the organization. Finally, there is an ongoing concern among TTP leadership about members potentially defecting to IS-KP should the group’s jihad in Pakistan end.[iv]


 “کابل کې د ۲۰۲۴ کال لومړۍ چاودنه او د ملکیانو مرګ ژوبله (The first explosion of 2024 in Kabul and civilian casualties),” Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe Affiliate), Accessed 13 January 2024. https://pa.azadiradio.com/a/32763886.html

At least two civilians were killed, and 14 others were injured in the first explosion of 2024 in Afghanistan, which took place in Dasht Barchi, a Shia-populated area west of Kabul. Khaled Zadran, the spokesman of the Taliban government’s Kabul police headquarters, said in a statement late yesterday that a caster-type vehicle was targeted in the blast. He announced the beginning of the investigation regarding this incident, for which no one has accepted responsibility. Before this, the Khorasan province branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh has accepted responsibility for some deadly attacks in the west of Kabul.

In the month of November, there was an explosion in Dasht Barchi that killed at least 7 people, and the responsibility was taken by Daesh, the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State group. According to the report of Agence France-Presse, although the level of insecurity has greatly increased after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, some armed groups, such as the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State group, or Daesh, are still considered a serious threat. The Daesh group also claimed responsibility for the killing of Dawood Muzamal, the Taliban governor for Balkh, last year. He was killed in a bomb attack in his office.

The Taliban government has said that it has defeated the Daesh group and will not allow the terrorist group to use the territory of Afghanistan to pose any threat to other countries. According to the report of the French news agency, the Acting Minister of Defense of the Taliban, Mohammad Yaqub Mujahid, last week announced a 90 percent decrease in the attacks of the Daesh group during the last year in Kabul. This is while the intelligence of the United States of America has said that the Daesh group in Afghanistan is involved in the bombings of the city of Kerman, Iran, last Wednesday. Two well-informed sources told the Reuters news agency last Friday that the communication information collected by the US proves that this attack, which killed nearly 100 people, was carried out by two attackers from the Khorasan province branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh… Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has denied this report while talking to the media. He said that ISIS has no capacity or presence in Afghanistan to plan any attack in Iran. At the same time, the spokesperson of the US Department of State said that the Taliban should remain committed to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan…

Last Wednesday, January 3rd, explosions took place in Kerman city of Iran during the ceremony of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of IRGC Quds Force. Iran has called it the deadliest attack in the country since 1979. A day after the incident, the Islamic State or Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday and said that two of its members planted explosives on their bodies. The group did not say that this was done by the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group or Daesh…

“بازداشت دو مهاجم انتحاری داعش «آموزش‌دیده در افغانستان» در پاکستان (Two ISIS suicide bombers ‘trained in Afghanistan’ were arrested in Pakistan),” Independent Persian (Persian language Saudi Research and Marketing Group Agency media outlet), 13 January 2024. https://www.independentpersian.com/node/382361/

Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department said on Friday, January 12, that two suicide bombers belonging to the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State (ISIS), who planned to attack Maulana Fazl-ul-Rehman, the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Party, and Amil Wali Khan, the leader of the National Awami Party of that country, have been arrested. According to the Express Tribune, Najmul Hasnain Liaqat, one of the senior officials of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism department, said in a press conference in Peshawar that the two suicide bombers were arrested in Peshawar and two suicide vests, three hand grenades, and some explosives were recovered from them.

The official of the Anti-Terrorism Department said that the explosives of these suicide attackers have been neutralized, and they have confessed to planning suicide attacks against Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman and Emil Wali Khan in the initial investigations.He said that these two ISIS suicide bombers were trained in Paktia province in Afghanistan and then went to Pakistan. Pakistan’s counter-terrorism department has not provided a document about the suicide training of these two ISIS members in Afghanistan. Taliban officials have not commented on this matter so far. But the Taliban deny training terrorists, including ISIS, in Afghanistan.

The Taliban call their suicide bombers “martyrs”. These forces have been trained in the training centers of the Taliban in such a way that they are ready to kill themselves to achieve the “dream of reaching heaven”. Among these suicide forces, there are a large number of young people who are waiting in line for a suicide attack and blowing themselves up on the way to the Taliban’s targets… Recently, ISIS has launched explosive and suicide attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday, and met with Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Hasan Akhund, the prime minister of the Taliban, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the political deputy of the prime minister of the Taliban, Amir Khan Motaghi, the foreign minister of the Taliban, Mullah Yaqub, the minister of defense of the Taliban, and other officials. Jamiat Ulema Pakistan has claimed that Mullah Yaqoob told Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman that the Taliban do not distinguish between themselves and Pakistan, and Mullah Yaqoob has expressed hope that the tension between the Taliban and Pakistan will decrease…The tension between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban regime has been formed in connection with how to deal with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The government of Pakistan wants the Taliban to hand over the leaders of the TTP inside the territory of Afghanistan and not to allow this group to use the territory of that country to attack. But on the other hand, Taliban reject the presence of foreign terrorists like TTP in Afghanistan. Senior Taliban officials have repeatedly said that TTP is Pakistan’s internal problem and that country must deal with it. Following the domination of the Taliban over Afghanistan, the number of explosive and terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased. TTP and its allied groups are responsible for most of these attacks. ISIS is also trying to increase attacks in Pakistan. America has described the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan as a serious threat to the region and the world.


[i] For additional information on IS-K’s history, ideology, tactics, and a summarized threat assessment, visit: Catrina Doxsee, and Jared Thompson. “Examining Extremism: Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP),” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8 September 2021. https://www.csis.org/blogs/examining-extremism/examining-extremism-islamic-state-khorasan-province-iskp

[ii] See: “داعش مسئولیت دومین انفجار مرگبار در کابل را هم بر عهده گرفت (ISIS also claimed responsibility for the second deadly explosion in Kabul),” Radio Farda, 9 January 2024. https://www.radiofarda.com/a/kabul-isis/32768439.html

[iii] Pakistan’s parliamentary election is scheduled for 8 February 2024. A detailed list of political parties and their political affiliations published by the UK Government can be found here: “Country Policy and Information Note Pakistan: Political Parties and Affiliation,” Home Office UK Government, May 2023. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/645cb936ad8a03000c38b295/PAK_CPIN_Political_parties_and_affiliation.pdf

[iv] The ICCT published a recent analysis on the potential resurgence of IS-KP and the Taliban’s counterterrorism efforts at: Antonio Giustozzi. “The Islamic State in Khorasan between Taliban counter-terrorism and resurgence prospects,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, January 30, 2024. https://www.icct.nl/publication/islamic-state-khorasan-between-taliban-counter-terrorism-and-resurgence-prospects

Image Information:

Image: Taliban Humvee in Kabul
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliban_Humvee_in_Kabul,_August_2021_(cropped).png
Attribution: Public Domain

Pakistan Deporting Approximately 1.7 Million Undocumented Afghanis in Response to Terrorist Attacks

Flag of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan

“Suppose that the Pakistani government succeeds in deporting all Afghan refugees, will terrorism be eradicated? Obviously not.”

Pakistan continues to struggle with a series of terror attacks, leading the government to resort to mass deportations of Afghan refugees to curb the violence. According to the first excerpted article from the Pashto-language version of the German media company Deutsche Welle, terrorists carried out four separate attacks in Pakistan between 3 and 6 November 2023. The attacks, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces, resulted in the deaths of 17 soldiers, five civilians, with another 24 wounded. The article notes that ten militants were killed in response, and “security forces have received Afghan ID cards from six of the militants killed in the Zhob [Balochistan] attack.” Amid rising tensions due to the ongoing acts of terrorism, the regional government of the Balochistan province alleged that both border nations, Iran and Afghanistan, were involved in recent attacks to increase political pressure on Pakistan. No evidence was provided to substantiate these allegations. Pakistan’s proposed solution to counter the ongoing violence inside its borders includes the deportation of approximately 1.7 million undocumented Afghanis, some of whom have lived in Pakistan for up to 40 years, according to the second excerpt from the independent Afghan news outlet Hasht e Subh. As of December 2023, over 400,000 have left Pakistan.[i] A majority of the remaining refugees currently reside in either the Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces that border Afghanistan.[ii] The article notes that Pakistan has not been able to successfully contain the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP)) and has frequently accused the Afghan refugee population of collaborating with the TTP. The article alleges that the Pakistani military has used both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to further its own geopolitical agenda when convenient. Some Afghan refugees allege that the Pakistani government is committing acts of terrorism by expelling them from the land. A mass deportation of a long-standing population may also lead to an increase in grievances by that community and possibly increased support for the TTP and other like-minded groups, resulting in additional terrorist attacks.[iii] The mass expulsion of undocumented refugees has already created a burden on both the Afghan and Pakistani governments from an economic and human rights perspective.


“پاکستان: په ۴۸ ساعتونو کې وسله والو ۴ بریدونه کړي دي (Pakistan: Militants have carried out 4 attacks in 48 hours),” Deutsche Welle (German news site), 6 November 2023. https://p.dw.com/p/4YRJH

According to security sources, militants carried out another attack in The Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtounkhwa yesterday, but this is the fourth attack on Pakistani security forces in the past 48 hours. Last night, police raided a police checkpoint in Ismail Khan district with heavy weapons. The exchange between the police and the armed forces lasted about half an hour, but the militants eventually fled. Police say they have cordoned off the area and are searching for suspected attackers. In the past three days, terrorists have carried out major attacks in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtounkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan provinces, killing 17 security forces, five civilians and wounding about 24 others, including police. Police claimed to have killed 10 people in the attack.

In recent days, attacks in different parts of Pakistan have increased. In the wake of the latest incidents, Balochistan’s regional government has claimed that two neighbouring countries are involved in the terrorist attacks because they want to pressure Pakistan. Balochistan’s Acting Information Minister, Jan Achakzai, told a news conference on Sunday that Pakistan was facing attacks “on both sides” but that it could not undermine the government’s will to defeat terrorists. He claimed that security forces had obtained identification cards from six of the militants killed in the attack. John Achakzai accused India of spreading insecurity in the region and that India’s intelligence agency, “Ro” is “involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.” Referring to the two terrorist attacks last week, he said: “We have repeatedly mentioned that India is involved in the terrorist attacks in the country, especially in Balochistan.”

“د کډوالو په اېستلو سره په پاکستان کې ترهګري له منځه نه ځي (Terrorism in Pakistan will not disappear by expelling refugees)” Hasht e Subh (independent Afghan news site), 5 November 2023. https://8am.media/ps/terrorism-in-pakistan-will-not-disappear-by-expelling-refugees/

The interim government of Pakistan has started deporting Afghan refugees en masse, which has provoked widespread protests. The interim prime minister of Pakistan has emphasized that all those illegal Afghan refugees who have been living in Pakistan for the past 40 years will be deported. This move has deepened the crisis which is not new for the Afghans and they have been dealing with it for decades. With the rule of the Taliban, the crisis of immigration has not decreased, but has expanded and increased… This has caused citizens to move to neighboring countries. This is not the only result of the arrival of the Taliban. The strengthening of terrorist groups and the development of their activities is also one of the destructive consequences of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan… The government of Pakistan, which is unable to control the TTP and has not given the desired result to the pressure on the Afghan Taliban to suppress this group, has increased the pressure on the Afghan refugees and accuses the Afghan refugees of terrorist attacks… There is no doubt that the Taliban is involved in many terrorist attacks in Pakistan and will continue to be in the future. But it cannot be that all Afghan refugees are considered terrorists or collaborators of terrorists and the solution is to seek their deportation. In reality, Afghan refugees have not only played an important role in the growth and strengthening of terrorism, but are considered the primary victims of the development of terrorist groups’ activities.

The terrorism that the government of Pakistan is using to expel Afghan refugees from their land today is the result of the deadly game that the soldiers of this country have skillfully played for years and the result was full of benefits for them. Thanks to the terrorist industry managed by the Pakistani army, the people of this country have not seen a stable civilian government and the army has control over all affairs. Terrorism is actually a pretense through which the soldiers introduce themselves as the saviors of Pakistan. If they are not there, the country will become food for wolves… It is not yet clear whether the TTP, as well as the Afghan Taliban, have really escaped the control of the Pakistani army or not; But what can’t be doubted is that the main threat to Pakistan is the soldiers, or to put it bluntly, the managers of the terrorist industry, not the Afghan refugees or the Pashtuns of this country. The Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line are the main victims of terrorism trained by the Pakistan Army.In the last few decades, one of the important tasks of the religious seminaries established in Pakistan with the support of the army was the training of the hard-line jihadi generation, who as proxy soldiers of the ESA during the invasion of the Soviet Union and also during the presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistani army overthrew the western-backed government in Afghanistan and established its own proxy regime in the country. But now that the jihad in Afghanistan is over, according to the terrorists, how and where will the thousands of jihadists trained in the religious schools of Pakistan quench their thirst for jihad… Suppose that the Pakistani government succeeds in deporting all Afghan refugees, will terrorism be eradicated? Obviously not. The main supporter of terrorism in Pakistan is the army, which is in control of the entire country, and thus, the main source of terrorism in Pakistan is religious madrassas, which continue to operate whether they are children of Afghan refugees or not. and the army does not care about them. Are only Afghans committing suicide attacks? No. Pakistanis are ahead of Afghans in terrorism and extremism…


[i] A supplemental report by the Associated Press detailing recent updates in the deportation of undocumented Afghanis in Pakistan: Sattar, Abdul and Munir Ahmed. “A Pakistani province aims to deport 10,000 Afghans a day,” Associated Press, November 30, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/pakistan-baluchistan-deport-migrants-afghans-7393238ace4c49acce9d7c77ebd708bf

[ii] For additional information on Afghan refugees in Pakistan, please visit the United Nations Refugee data website: “Registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan” United Nations Operational Data Portal. https://data.unhcr.org/en/country/pak

[iii] To learn more about the potential impact of grievances and their effect on terrorism globally, see:

Murphy, Natalie. “Why Grievances Matter: An Analysis of the Influence Grievances Have on Domestic Terrorism Globally,” Johns Hopkins University, [Thesis] May 2022. https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/0f722198-6850-4d16-8250-5fcad421430b/content

Image Information:

Image: Flag of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_Tehrik-i-Taliban_Pakistan.png#globalusage
Attribution: Public Domain

UN Assesses Core of Islamic State Stagnating, While Some Global Affiliates Thrive

Flag of the Islamic State.

“Despite significant attrition of the Da’esh leadership and a reduction in activity in the core conflict zone, the risk of resurgence remain[s].”

The United Nations Monitoring Team has released a new report on the status of the Islamic State (IS) around the world. The report details member states’ efforts to combat the group’s core presence as well as the activities of IS affiliate branches around the world.

The report notes that despite the international cooperation against the Islamic State, its core group, based in Iraq and Syria, still has an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters. The report notes IS attacks have slowed from the previous reporting period (the second half of 2022), though the group maintains a low-level insurgency, particularly taking advantage of the security vacuums along the Kurdistan border in Iraq. The report also underscores that IS core’s reserves of $25 to $50 million have dwindled significantly, though it continues to raise funds, most commonly via kidnapping for ransom. Notably, the report relays that continued counterterror pressure from states around the world has led IS to adopt an increasingly decentralized model of governance extending to IS’s global provinces. While no evidence exists to demonstrate these provinces are being commanded and controlled by IS central, “reporting shows that financial, propaganda and other connections remain.” The satellite provinces of the Islamic State remain a concern. The report assesses the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) to be “the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and the wider region.” With fighters and their family members estimated at between 4,000 and 6,000 individuals, the report notes that IS-K has adopted increasingly sophisticated tactics aimed at demonstrating the Taliban’s inability to ensure security.[i] The IS continued to demonstrate its staying power in Africa,[ii] the world region most beset by jihadist terror.[iii] In the Sahel,[iv] the report notes that the IS-Sahel province, “had become increasingly autonomous and had played a significant role in the escalation of violence in the region,” though curiously, the report makes no mention of the largest IS branch in Africa, the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP). The report notes that an estimated 300 to 500 fighters still exist in southern Libya, and that UN member states have grown concerned about the presence of a strengthening IS presence in Sudan considering the country’s recent political turmoil.


United Nations Security Council, “Seventeenth report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat,” United Nations Security Council, 31 July 2023. https://undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=S%2F2023%2F568&Language=E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False

During the first half of 2023, the threat posed to international peace and security by Da’esh and its affiliates remained mostly high in conflict zones and low in non-conflict areas. However, the overall situation is dynamic, with notable subregional variation in activity. Leadership attrition, as well as counter-terrorism efforts by Member States in certain regions, continue to have an impact on Da’esh activities. Multilateral cooperation has remained essential to effectively responding to the threat, including through an integrated and balanced implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy…

Despite significant attrition of the Da’esh leadership and a reduction in activity in the core conflict zone, the risk of resurgence remained. The group has adapted its strategy, embedding itself with local populations, and has exercised caution in choosing battles that are likely to result in limited losses, while rebuilding and recruiting from camps in the north-east of the Syrian Arab Republic and from vulnerable communities, including in neighbouring countries…

The trend of counter-terrorist pressure prompting Da’esh to adopt less hierarchical and more networked, decentralized structures has continued, with operational autonomy in the affiliated groups. Member States have little evidence that the core leadership is exercising command and control of regional affiliates, although reporting shows that financial, propaganda and other connections remain…The group’s media apparatus leverages the operations of Da’esh affiliates in conflict zones in its propaganda efforts, reaching a wide audience, with the aim of radicalizing potential recruits, gaining support and inspiring attacks beyond conflict zones. While its previously well-developed external operations capability remained diminished and largely constrained, the ambition to reconstitute is clear. The situation in Afghanistan has become more complex, with increasing Member State concerns about the ability of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) (QDe.161) to project a threat both in the region and further afield…


[i] For more on the UN’s critiques of the Taliban, see: Jason Warner, “Taliban Responds to UN Reports Claiming Taliban Rule Aids Terrorist Expansion,” OE Watch,07-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/taliban-responds-to-un-reports-claiming-taliban-rule-aids-terrorist-expansion/

[ii] For more on the status of the Islamic State in Africa, see: Jason Warner, “UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan,” OE Watch,03-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/un-warns-about-islamic-state-surging-in-africa-and-afghanistan/

[iii] For more on Africa as the new epicenter of global terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, With the Sahel as the New Epicenter,” OE Watch, 05-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/global-terrorism-declined-slightly-in-2022-with-the-sahel-as-the-new-epicenter/; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2022/african-leaders-and-un-see-terrorism-in-the-sahel-as-dire/

[iv] For more on the status of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel and Sahara, see: Jason Warner, “Leader of Al-Qaeda’s Sahelian Branch, JNIM, Explains His Group’s Goals,” OE Watch,05-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/leader-of-al-qaedas-sahelian-branch-explains-his-groups-goals/; Jason Warner, “Al-Qaeda Leader in Maghreb Celebrates French Departure, Claims No Plans To Attack French Homeland,” OE Watch,04-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/al-qaeda-leader-in-maghreb-celebrates-french-departure-claims-no-plans-to-attack-french-homeland/

Image Information:

Image: Flag of the Islamic State. 
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121483302@N02/14690988398 
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0

Iran Opens New Helicopter, Drone Base in Southeastern Provincial Capital

Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.

Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.

“The helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened for large security missions.”

Iran is beefing up its military strike capability in its southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan with a new helicopter and drone-capable air base in the provincial capital of Zahedan. While the region is the second-largest Iranian province by size, its population is sparse and the province itself has long been considered a backwater. Indian Ocean trade from its strategic port of Chabahar remains miniscule in comparison to Iran’s Persian Gulf and Caspian ports.[i] According to the following excerpted article from Azad News Agency, the base will “accommodate IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] drones…[a]ll sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.” This announcement is notable since the region has long been a strategic Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime. Smuggling across Iran’s frontier with Afghanistan is a problem that predates Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The region has long been restive both because its harsh terrain gives shelter to criminals and terrorists and because of sectarian and ethnic tension between the local Sunni and Baluch population and the Shi’ite Persians and Azeris who dominate the Iranian regime and the IRGC. There has been no shortage of unrest in recent years, including high-profile attacks on the IRGC in the region.[ii] These conditions may be the prime reason, albeit unstated in the Iranian press, why the IRGC has established the base in Sistan va Baluchistan. The move may also reflect the Iranian regime hedging its bets regarding future relations with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan. Curiously, given previous Iranian investment in Chabahar, the decision to locate the base beyond helicopter range to the port raises questions about Iranian strategy, although it may reflect a rolling decision to deemphasize the strategic importance of the port in the future.


“Paygah-e Havaye va Balgard-e Niru-ye Zamini Sepah Aftah Shod (The Army Air Force Opens its Helicopter Headquarters),” Azad News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency that closely follows the government line), 10 May 2023. https://ana.press/fa/news/846682

…In the presence of General Hossein Salami, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an air and helicopter base named “Ali Arabi” was inaugurated in Zahedan, in the southeast of the country. It will also accommodate IRGC drones. All sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles can use the base that is built to the latest technical specifications and aviation standards.General Mohammed Pakpour, Commander of the IRGC Ground Forces, spoke about the objectives in building the base. “With the operation of this base, the IRGC’s ground force helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened and equipped for large security, defense, rescue and rescue missions, support, people assistance and service,” he said. “In addition to creating the capacity for maintenance and simultaneous take-off of dozens of helicopters, all capacity for refueling, hangering, repairs and maintenance have been created.”


[i] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Construction Begins on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/359394/download

[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Border Guard Post Overrun, Guards Abducted” OE Watch, December 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/252911/download

Image Information:

Image: Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.
Source: https://ana.press/files/fa/news/1402/2/20/228265_685.jpg
Attribution: Azad News Agency

Russia Strengthens Its Military Presence in Central Asia

 201st Military Base.

201st Military Base.

“Russia decided to increase the readiness of its military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan because of “US attempts to restore its military presence in Central Asia.”

Russia’s military bases in Central Asia have always been important to its strategic goals in the region, particularly for dealing with potential instability in Afghanistan. While the Russian government initially accepted U.S. airbases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan beginning in 2001 to support operations in Afghanistan, it later pressed both governments to evict U.S. forces. The United States left the Kharshi-Khanbad airbase (known as K2) in Uzbekistan in 2005[i] and left the Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan in 2014. Russian officials have claimed that U.S. security cooperation with Central Asian states in the 2000s took place as part of an effort to establish permanent military bases in the region, though the United States has not used a regional military facility since it left Manas.

The accompanying excerpted article from Kyrgyzstan’s independent news website Kloop reports on a statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 28 April 2023 in New Delhi, India about increasing the combat readiness of Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Shoigu noted that Russia made this decision to increase combat readiness because the United States is trying “to restore its military presence in Central Asia…under the pretext of helping in the fight against terrorism.” However, the article also notes that Shoigu did not offer facts to substantiate this this claim. When Russian officials announced measures to strengthen its military bases in Central Asia in the past, they noted specific increases in capabilities, like the transfer of S-300 [RG1] air defense systems to Tajikistan in 2019.[ii] Shoigu also stated that requests from members of the SCO to host military facilities is a “direct threat to stability in the SCO space.” Shoigu did not mention which SCO member would potentially host the U.S. military, but SCO members in Central Asia include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. There have been no reports that any of the three have been negotiating to host U.S. forces, but Shoigu is warning fellow SCO members that Russia will consider hosting the United States as a threat. The article also usefully provides a reminder of the current Russian military bases in Central Asia. These include the Kant airbase outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and the 201st Russian military base, home of the 201st Motor Rifle Division, in Tajikistan, the latter of which is Russia’s largest military facility outside its borders. The article ends by noting that Ukraine claimed it destroyed a tactical group from the 201st military base last year, though this has not been verified. While Russia claims it is strengthening its bases in Central Asia as a measure to maintain its presence in the region, without any specific information on how this will take place, it is possible that Russia is doing this to replace losses of the of the 201st in Tajikistan suffered in Ukraine.


Munduzbek Kalykov, “Шойгу: Россия повышает боеготовность своих военных баз в Кыргызстане и Таджикистане (Shoigu: Russia will increase the combat readiness of its military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan),” Kloop (an independent Russian-language news website in Kyrgyzstan), 29 April 2023. https://kloop.kg/blog/2023/04/29/shojgu-rossiya-povyshaet-boegotovnost-svoih-voennyh-baz-v-kyrgyzstane-i-tadzhikistane/

Russia decided to increase the readiness of its military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan because of “US attempts to restore its military presence in Central Asia.” This was stated by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as reported by RIA Novosti.

According to Shoigu, “the United States and its allies, under the pretext of helping in the fight against terrorism, are trying to restore their military presence in Central Asia.” However, he did not provide specific facts.

“We regard requests to the countries of the region to deploy military infrastructure as a direct threat to stability in the SCO space…” Shoigu said on April 28 at meeting of defense ministers of the SCO member states in New Delhi.

A Russian military base has existed in Kyrgyzstan since the early 2000s. Its main forces are located in the small town of Kant, not far from Bishkek – these are Su-25 [RG1] attack aircraft and Mi-8 [RG2] helicopters. The Russian joint military base also includes a test site at Issyk-Kul, where Russian sailors test underwater torpedoes.

The 201st Russian military base is located in Tajikistan, and the garrison is deployed in the cities of Dushanbe and Bokhtar. This is Russia’s largest military facility outside its borders. The base includes motorized rifle artillery, reconnaissance, anti-aircraft missile and other units, as well as an air group……in mid-April 2022, the Ukrainian army announced the destruction of the tactical group of the 201st Russian military base, which has a permanent deployment in Tajikistan…


[i] The withdrawal of U.S. forces from K2 cannot be solely attributed to Russian pressure. In May 2005, the Uzbek military forcefully put down public demonstrations in the Ferghana Valley, killing numerous civilians and drawing the ire of the Bush administration regarding human rights. This began a diplomatic row between the United States and Uzbekistan, which resulted in an Uzbekistani demand that the United States leave the base within six months, eventually withdrawing from K2 in November 2005.

[ii] For more background on Russia’s transfers of S-300s to Tajikistan, see: Matthew Stein “Russia Transfers S-300s to Tajikistan,” OE Watch, December 2019. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/p/oe-watch-issues

Image Information:

Image: 201st Military Base.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:201_military_base_09.jpg
Attribution: CCA 4.0

UN Warns About Islamic State Surging in Africa and Afghanistan

Flag of the United Nations.

Flag of the United Nations.

“Issues of leadership were significant during the reporting period. ISIL core continues to be under pressure, with attrition in its leadership and depleting resources. It has proven resilient, but morale is low.”

In mid-February, the United Nations released its biannual report offering a broad overview of the state of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Created with inputs from the intelligence analysis of participating UN member states, the report is a useful analysis of the state of play of transnational jihadist movements. As regards the Islamic State, the UN report underscored that the global terrorist organization is making its greatest gains in Sub-Saharan Africa,[i] via its West Africa (Lake Chad Basin) and Sahel (Niger-Mali-Burkina Faso) affiliates. The report also noted the importance of Somalia in the Islamic State’s funding efforts. Outside of Africa, it asserts that violence is surging in the Islamic State’s so-called Khorasan Province (Afghanistan-Pakistan), notably with attacks on the rival Taliban. The report emphasizes that the Islamic State’s growth and resiliency are being most clearly demonstrated outside of its original core bases of Iraq and Syria, where it is known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). As it describes, “ISIL core continues to be under pressure, with attrition in its leadership and depleting resources. It has proven resilient, but morale is low.” The UN report continues to underscore that the current epicenter of terrorist violence has shifted away from being centered in the Middle East, and is now most heavily weighted in Africa and South Asia.[ii] As global focus has moved away from terrorism and towards near-peer competition, the overriding implication is that the global terrorist threat has not disappeared.


United Nations Security Council, “Letter dated 13 February 2023 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, 13 February 2023 . https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/monitoring-team/reports

The threat from Al-Qaida, ISIL (Da’esh) and affiliated groups remains high in conflict zones and neighbouring countries. It remains relatively low in other areas, but both groups continue to aspire to project threat.

Africa has emerged in recent years as the continent where the harm done by terrorism is developing most rapidly and extensively. Two of the three most dynamic ISIL affiliates are in Africa, and the continent has seen the greatest growth in ISIL affiliates, with several groups expanding their radius of influence often across national borders. ISIL continues its efforts to exploit regional and local grievances throughout the continent for propaganda purposes, publicizing related events and attacks to enhance its global footprint. Equally, Al-Qaida’s most successful affiliate in Somalia, Al-Shabaab, continues to grow in strength and reach as the group’s most brutal affiliate, and Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) has been able to expand its operations in West Africa and the Sahel.Issues of leadership were significant during the reporting period. ISIL core continues to be under pressure, with attrition in its leadership and depleting resources. It has proven resilient, but morale is low. The group is strengthening through its affiliates beyond Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic: in Africa and with the aggressive agenda of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan (ISIL-K) in Afghanistan, whose rivalry with the Taliban will continue to have a destabilizing effect in Afghanistan and the region. Most of the attacks by ISIL-K are against the Taliban. A new leader of ISIL was killed after barely eight months in charge. The function of leader has become almost totemic, a rallying point for the wider group. For the time being, ISIL core continues to produce leaders who meet this need, and members of affiliates pledge allegiance swiftly and without question, not anticipating close operational direction.  Member States’ predominant view is that Sayf al-‘Adl is now the de facto leader of Al-Qaida, representing continuity for now. But his leadership cannot be declared because of Al-Qaida’s sensitivity to Afghan Taliban concerns not to acknowledge the death of Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri in Kabul and the fact of Sayf al-‘Adl’s presence in the Islamic Republic of Iran. His location raises questions that have a bearing on Al-Qaida’s ambitions to assert leadership of a global movement in the face of challenges from ISIL.


[i] For more on the Islamic State’s history and evolution in Africa, see: Jason Warner et al., The Islamic State in Africa: Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront, Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2022.

[ii] For more on how Africa has taken on new importance in the global jihadist landscape, see: Tricia Bacon and Jason Warner, “Twenty Years After 9/11: The Threat in Africa – The New Global Epicenter of Jihadi Terrorism,” CTC Sentinel, 14 (7), September 2021. https://ctc.usma.edu/twenty-years-after-9-11-the-threat-in-africa-the-new-epicenter-of-global-jihadi-terror/

Image Information:

Image: Flag of the United Nations
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_United_Nations.png
Attribution: Wilfried Huss, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Iran Intercepts Crystal Meth Shipment From Afghanistan

Customs officials discover 500 kilograms of crystal meth in a truck crossing from Afghanistan.

Customs officials discover 500 kilograms of crystal meth in a truck crossing from Afghanistan.

The discovery of a 500 kg shipment of crystal meth today marks the sixth large shipment discovered.

In the world of narcotics sales, Afghanistan has long been the world’s top producer of illegal opium. However, the excerpted article from general interest Iranian website Newsin.ir reports that a customs inspector at Mahiroud, an Iranian border post near the midpoint of Iran and Afghanistan’s 572-mile frontier, recently intercepted a truck carrying 500 kg of crystal meth coming from Afghanistan. Crystal meth is made from the ephedra plant, widely available in Afghanistan. That the seized haul was crystal meth suggests that the Taliban are expanding their embrace of the illicit economy beyond the sale of opium. Presumably, the Taliban seek to raise funds as they struggle with the responsibility of going from insurgents to national rulers, responsible for funding ordinary government operations. To that end, Afghanistan’s illegal narcotics have created numerous problems for Iran. Not only does Iran serve as a transport corridor for the illicit products from Afghanistan, but its citizens are also consumers. Moreover, while Iran fights its own domestic drug war at great cost in blood and treasure, many within the Iranian regime are also complicit in the trade and fan the flames of organized transnational organized crime.


 “Kashef-e Mohamuleh 500 Kilo-ye Shisha dar Morzha-ye Sharq-e Tawsat Gomrak (Discovery of 500 kilograms of Crystal Meth at Eastern Border Customs),” Newzin (general interest Iran news website), 4 September 2022. https://newsin.ir/fa/content/24366494

…Farideh Zubaydi, deputy legal and customs supervisor, said, “Since the beginning of this year [March 21, 2022], customs discovered five large shipments of narcotics, mainly shipments of meth with Afghan origins. Today’s discovery makes that six major discoveries. He added: “Shipments of 580 kg, 153 kg, 400 kg, 61 kg and 1118 kg of narcotics had been discovered by customs colleagues since the beginning of the year. The discovery of a 500 kg shipment of crystal meth today marks the sixth large shipment discovered by customs. With divine blessings, while taking advantage of minimum available facilities, our colleagues this morning at Mahiroud Customs post in South Khorasan province were able to discover 500 kilograms of crystal meth that was professionally embedded in the tanker floor of the truck from Afghanistan.

Iran’s Customs Deputy added: “Reports received from Mahiroud Customs in South Khorasan indicate that at 9:30 a.m., the trainer of the drug-sniffing dogs of this post was inspecting a white tanker truck driven by an Afghan national, and taking into account the risk indicators, managed to discover the professional placement of 500 one-kilogram packets of crystal meth.

Image Information:

Image: Customs officials discover 500 kilograms of crystal meth in a truck crossing from Afghanistan.
Source: Fars News Agency https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1401/06/14/14010614000228_Test_PhotoN.jpg

Mountain Warfare and Other Lofty Problems: Foreign Perspectives on High-Altitude Combat (Les Grau and Charles Bartles)

(Click image to download book.)

There is long history of writings on mountain combat that include such luminaries as Clausewitz and Engels. Yet the allied force in Afghanistan frequently displayed a reluctance to go and remain in the mountains. Les Grau has been writing on mountain combat before the US invasion of Afghanistan. During a trip to Afghanistan, Les and Chuck Bartles decided to do a book on foreign perspectives of mountain combat. Their goal was to share this information with units deploying to Afghanistan and mountain training centers. This book is a collection of foreign articles and foreign source-based articles on mountain operations, tactics, movement, maneuver, training, artillery and aviation support, reconnaissance, communications and logistics. This book is not US Army doctrine, rather it offers alternative views to help forces adapt to a challenging environment and carry out their mission.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (Les Grau)

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This book was written by Soviet officers who had served in Afghanistan and returned for the extensive Command and Staff course at the Frunze Combined Arms Academy in Moscow. While they were at the Academy, the History of the Military Art Department had the Afghanistan veterans write vignettes of their experience. They analyzed these, edited the best and added commentary as lessons learned for future war in mountain-desert terrain. The department published them as an in-house a book in 1991. The book was intended for internal use only, and, as such, shows both the good and the bad. Mistakes and successes both illustrate the hard lessons learned in fighting guerrillas on rough terrain. It is not a history of the Soviet-Afghan War, rather it is a series of snapshots of combat as witnessed by young platoon leaders, company commanders, battalion commanders, staff officers and advisers to the Afghan government force. It is not a book about right and wrong, rather it is a book about survival and adaptation as young men come to terms with a harsh, boring and brutal existence punctuated by times of heady excitement and terror. This book was part of a US/Russian military exchange following the collapse of the Soviet Union.