The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan after a costly 20-year war with the United States and the collapse of the Afghan government in August. Now they are facing a myriad of problems including a crushing and growing humanitarian crisis as the international aid that the country is reliant upon has dried up. But their biggest crisis arguably is in the realm of counter-terrorism.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West said in an interview with Voice of America recently that the Taliban shouldn’t expect the amount of aid that has been forthcoming from the West to continue. 

“We made clear that if [the Taliban] chose a military path to power, that that aid would disappear, and that is what occurred,” West said.

Now the shoe is on the other foot especially in eastern Nangarhar province where ISIS-K has a stronghold and is increasingly getting stronger. Now the Taliban forces are the ones visible during the day but retreat to fortified bases at night. ISIS-K terrorists roam the province and exact a heavy toll on the population. 

Kabul mosque bombing
The aftermath of the Kabul mosque bombing. (Reuters)

After the U.S. chaotic withdrawal in August, while the Taliban were busy parading around in abandoned equipment that the U.S. had furnished to the Afghan government, ISIS-K seized on the opportunity to expand its operations and influence among the Sunni population. They targeted Shia mosques and hospitals with high-profile attacks in both Kunduz and Kandahar.

ISIS-K’s operations have defied the Taliban’s claim that they are in control of Afghanistan’s security. Ironically, by using roadside bombs and suicide IED attacks, ISIS-K is using the same tactics that the Taliban used to weaken the legitimacy of the Western coalition and Afghan government.

ISIS-K has been a visible force in Nangarhar since 2015; its influence continues to steadily grow. Now, without the United States’ counter-terrorism forces active in the country, they are growing even stronger. 

Many of the former Afghan government intelligence operatives who worked for the U.S. are being recruited into ISIS-K. The terrorist organization is recruiting from the Taliban themselves, appealing to the global jihadist message.