This past week, some interesting reporting regarding the evolution of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) centered around the group’s announcement of opening “offices” in Afghanistan. This maneuver reflects a considerable shift in strategic goals for ISIS. Though rhetoric thus far has maintained the group’s ultimate pursuit of the establishment of a Caliphate that would comprise territory from India westward to Africa and Europe, ISIS has largely been confined to Syria until this past summer when it overran the Iraqi city of Mosul and threatened to destabilize the Kurdish north. Massacres of ethnic minorities brought the advance of ISIS to the eyes of the world as Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims were rounded up and slaughtered with seeming abandon by ISIS fighters.
Adam Taylor wrote of the metamorphosis of ISIS beyond the Levant for the Washington Post on September 26th:
Radio Free Afghanistan reported Friday that they were recently sent a video that appears to show three masked militants in Afghanistan declaring themselves the Islamic Organization of Great Afghanistan and pledging allegiance to their “caliph” Baghdadi and the Islamic State. Notably, the group, wearing masks and appearing in front of a black flag like that used by the Islamic State, say the Taliban is working for Pakistan, which many Afghans believe has designs on their country. (Taylor, The Washington Post, September 26)
While ISIS shares a common enemy with al-Qaeda (the West), there are important distinctions to be made between the two groups in tactics, capability, and overarching strategy. While the al-Qaeda “brand” has been devalued in recent years with the high profile killing of its leader, Osama Bin Laden, and the continued routing of its command and control through drone strikes in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, it remains in some ways “the vanguard” of the global Islamist movement. Al-Qaeda has recently begun re-assessing its own strategic objectives and has methodically begun supporting more regional jihadist groups such as those in Africa. In this way, ISIS stands to fill a void in carrying the banner for the global Islamist movement. The Radio Free Afghanistan article illuminates these possible fissures through the identification of the person announcing the presence of ISIS, an Afghan with an accent identifying a Pashtun man from Ghazni Province: