Former Afghan Commanders, Intelligence Officers Make Perfect ISIS Recruits: Some Doing it for the Money, Some for Survival

Former Afghan Commanders, Intelligence Officers Make Perfect ISIS Recruits: Some Doing it for the Money, Some for Survival
Afghan special force commando unit officers and soldiers attend a graduation ceremony at the military academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, 2021. Photo: AFP

When Afghan Taliban took over Kabul in mid August this year, everyone was skeptical they would be able to consolidate power and do what they could not last time they were in power: take control of Panjshir Valley – the home of the late Afghan Jihad commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Surprisingly, in just three weeks, Qari Fasihuddin, Deputy Commander of the Military Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, became the first Taliban leader in history to set foot in Bazarak, the provincial capital of Panjshir.

With the fall of Panjshir, the anti-Taliban resistance came to an end, giving the Taliban regime a free hand.

The Taliban formed interim government, announced amnesty for all government employees and asked them to resume work, allowing girls to attend school though with restrictions amid bunch of other measures to portray itself as a moderate in order to get world’s acceptance.

Overwhelmed with success and negotiating the maze of international diplomacy, the Taliban probably did not take into consideration the threat in the shape of the local ISIS offshoot Khorasan.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 suicide bomb, which killed at least 175 people, including 13 US troops, at Kabul airport. Photo: AFP

Since the Taliban take-over, ISIS-Khorasan (often referred as ISIS-K) has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in the country, including the ones targeting Friday prayers, imambargahs. The biggest so far, has been the August 26 attack outside the Kabul Airport. Over 170 Afghans and 13 US soldiers were killed that day.

Now, the Wall Street Journal has reported that former members of the Afghan intelligence agencies and elite military units are joining the only resistance that they see can challenge the writ of the Talibam: ISIS-K.

A former commander of the Afghan military’s weapons and ammunition depot in Gardez, Paktia, was killed in a clash with the Taliban. He had joined ISIS-Khorasan, the report says, quoting an Afghan official who knew deceased.

The defection to ISIS is fuelled by mixed feelings of abandonment and fear.

Former personnel of Afghan forces feel let down by their former US patrons who just packed up and left for their country.

A US aircraft fly from the Kabul airport. Photo: AFP

Some men are opting to work with the terrorist outfit as they fear persecution by the Taliban. A former Afghan official said some of the former Afghan intelligence and military officials he knew joined ISIS after the Taliban raided their homes and asked them to appear before the country’s new authorities.

And in some cases, it’s all about money. ISIS-K offers handsome amounts of cash to new recruits.

The Afghan forces were cash-strapped and were not paid for months when the US forces left in August. This was one of the reasons for the lukewarm resistance that the Taliban faced from the Afghan National Army and other forces.

Even American officials were aware of this. US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told a Senate briefing last month that they knew that the Afghan forces had not been paid for months. Kahl said that they were broadly aware. He admitted that the US administration’s “visibility to exact conditions were highly degraded”.

Now ISIS is acquiring expertise in intelligence-gathering and warfare techniques with the addition of former members of the Afghan intelligence and elite force commandos joining its ranks. This would probably strengthen its ability to contest Taliban supremacy.