While naming a US-designated terrorist as the country’s new interior minister presents an issue for international recognition of the Taliban administration, it should however make it easier for the Taliban government to combat Islamic State-Khorosan, also known as IS-K or ISIS-K, the radical offshoot that claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bombs near Kabul’s airport last month.
Haqqani, whose late father founded the Haqqani movement, joins his brother Anas and other family members in the top leadership of the Taliban after years of operating as a semi-independent faction of the Taliban in attacks on the US-backed government in Kabul and occupying NATO troops.
His history as an insurgent leader comfortable with deploying suicide bombers and kidnapping journalists earned him a $5 million dollar reward from the FBI for his suspected role in a 2008 attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six foreigners and one American. Haqqani has also argued via a ghostwritten editorial in the New York Times last month that the Taliban were interested in equal rights for all under Islamic law, giving him a surprisingly high profile for a hunted man.
“That’s why I wouldn’t worry so much about these IS-K guys long term,” said a former UK special forces soldier who advised the Afghan government on security matters before it fell to the Taliban last month.
Founded in 2015 by supporters of the then-announced ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, IS-K has recruited disenfranchised Taliban members and from local tribes to oppose the Taliban, and has a proven ability to strike Taliban and western targets in Kabul. But they face a new opponent in Haqqani, who will have much better information and resources for hunting the radical militants, than the Americans.
“Haqqani is a consummate professional – these well-equipped Taliban guys in special operations style gear being photographed are usually his people, who are typically much better trained than the average Talib foot soldier,” said the adviser, who cannot be named for security and contractual reasons. “And he’s an expert operational terrorist with a long history of fighting in the very areas that we see IS-K activity. His skill at irregular warfare and knowledge of both the social and physical terrain should make him very effective against the IS-K elements who remain.”
“Send a terrorist to catch a terrorist, indeed,” said the source.
But having killed more than 200 people including 13 American service members in a massive suicide bombing outside the gates of Kabul airport during the chaotic evacuation of foreigners and their allies from the Kabul last month, IS-K will pose a short term threat that has aid workers and journalists concerned.
Although reporters and aid workers have generally been allowed to work by the Taliban – despite incidents this week at protests in Kabul – there remain major concerns that IS-K will be able to conduct additional attacks in Kabul itself as the predominantly rural Taliban fighters adjust to securing a city of more than 5 million people.
“I’m not worried about the Taliban for now,” said one Western journalist working in the city, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “I am avoiding crowds and major events whenever I can because of the threat of [IS-K] suicide bombs as the Taliban learn to control the city.”
“This transition feels dangerous,” said the journalist, and a staffer for an international aid group also working in Kabul after the departure of the US forces agreed.
“There’s going to be some more bombs here in Kabul because the Taliban haven’t completely organised the security of the city,” said the aid group official, who also cited security for anonymity. “They’re mostly country guys and farmers who have often never been to a city before so securing Kabul will be harder than chasing them down in Kunar Province. But I do think they’ll establish control fairly soon, this is just a dangerous transition phase.”