Naser Koshan

The Vengeful Duo: The Russian – ISIS, Afghanistan connection


Russia was the only country launching an extensive and pounding aerial campaign against ISIS strongholds within Syria. President Putin as a veteran former intelligence officer had rightfully sensed the global aspirations of the same, that of establishing a self-proclaimed Islamic state extending to the very doorsteps of the Russian federation that needed to be stopped at any given cost.

Prior to entering the Syrian war, president Putin’s government was constantly blaming the United States and its resident allies, notably Turkey, in keeping a lifeline open for insurgents fighting against the Syrian government. The Russians occasionally released drone footages of ISIS convoys openly crossing into Turkey to smuggle oil, and rejuvenate their injured.

Moreover, the Russians assumed that the United States was selective in choosing their targets in both Iraq and Syria, intentionally avoiding targets linked to the Syrian Free Army, assisting anti-regime moderates to advance towards Damascus. The Russians, on the other hand, adopted a no discriminatory policy, targeting any militant group fighting to weaken the incumbent Syrian president.

Why did the Russians stepped in to save the falling Syrian regime?

President Bashar-Al-Assad of Syria is undoubtedly a longstanding regional ally of the Russian state, this makes saving the regime and keeping it unified a top priority and key to preserving Russian national interests in the Middle East. Russia, in addition to losing futile arms contract estimated at USD 4.0 billion with the precedent regimes in the Middle East, did lose an array of regional allies during the Arab Spring in the Arab world, considering a regime change in Syria a catastrophe and a further blow to its geo - political aspirations, wasted no time to act in its support.

 In Afghanistan, the ISIS is rapidly gaining footholds across the eastern and northern regions of the country. Insurgents linked to group have already carried out gruesome attacks on military and civilian targets both within and outside the capital, Kabul. The group’s indigenous fighters are accompanied with a tangible number of foreign fighters, mostly coming from central Asia and Chechnya County of the Russian Federation.

This growing number of foreign recruits from former Soviet Union republics has deterred Russian to indulge in proactive measures on the outskirts of their respective borders.  The Russian government has already put its security forces on high alert since mid 2016; any infiltration to the neighboring central Asian republics by ISIS is considered a major national security threat to Russia itself. President Putin’s government has a full assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, citing any cross border activities by the ISIS fighters will be dealt with appropriately.

Unlike Taliban that manifest in local insurgency within their constituencies, DAESH aspires in reining through a unilateral religious caliphate sans boundaries. They condone sectarian killings and encourage lone wolf attacks on innocent civilians in foreign lands using clandestine social media accounts.  Their online recruits and sympathizers have already carried out heinous acts of violence against civilians across major world capitals. The group clearly does not discriminate among Muslims and non-Muslims, targeting both fronts with equal violence and indiscriminate killings. The recent attacks in London, Iran and Germany are adherent to this fact.

Afghanistan which has always been a natural nesting ground for radical movements is on the verge of becoming yet another coveted sanctuary for the group’s affiliate, ISIS-K. Though the Afghan government has launched numerous operations against the group in eastern and northern areas of the country, they are still growing in numbers and enhancing their militaristic capabilities at the same time.  This rapidly changing equation has signaled concerns to the new administration in the white house, worry of a weakening central government in Kabul, lacking militaristic means at their disposal to face the growing challenges triumphantly.

To deal with this issue, the Trump administration is already weighing in on sending additional fresh troops to the country to assist and accompany the indigenous forces advance and gain momentum against the increasing insurgency in the country. Secretary Mattis acknowledged the deteriorating status quo in Afghanistan, calling it a stalemate during a senate hearing in Washington that urgently needed to be addressed and broken in favor of the Afghan government. President Trump has also given full authorization to secretary of defense and on-field generals to make their own decisions when it comes to assessing and implementation of the prevailing warring strategy in Afghanistan. The White house and Pentagon have concurrently announced 2017 as the ultimatum to wipeout ISIS’s affiliates in the country.

ISIS is certainly a global threat; the group has publically announced its intentions in establishing an extreme version of Islamic caliphate around the world, They consider the whole world as apostate states, encouraging individuals within these countries to indulge in targeting public institutions and mass killings of innocent civilians even if bare handedly, thus requiring a global campaign and strategic cooperation among all stakeholders to curtail this growing menace with utter precision and broad based approaches.

In Afghanistan, the group is aiming to ignite a devastating sectarian violence between the two major religious sects, the Sunnis and Shia, which have lived peacefully side by side despite an obnoxious history of internal war in the country. They have been behind gruesome bombings on Shias’ religious sites, one happening just last week on the western side of the capital in Dasht-e-Barchi area, killing an influential ethnic hazara personality and wounding dozens other during a religious ritual.

In a recent televised documentary about the presence of the group in Afghanistan, as part of their propaganda campaign, they provided unprecedented access to Al-Jazeera journalists filming their whereabouts and interviewing their many central Asian recruits vowing to take the war back to the Russian doorsteps from Afghanistan. Russia became a potential adversary when it went after the group with heavy bombing and special operations unit, inflicting a devastating toll on the insurgents’ advancement and battlefield capabilities in Syria. In retaliation, their sympathizers have carried out deadly attacks on certain public places including the Moscow’s subway and train stations. It is rationally apparent from remarks made in the documentary that the insurgents are on a standby to infiltrate into former Russian Republics, and carry out a possible strike on the Russian mainland.

The Russian officials have already expressed their concerns and shared tangible intelligence with their Afghan counterparts on the presence and ill-intentions of these elements towards its national security and that of its Eurasian allies in the region. Meanwhile, the Russians are purportedly in contacts with elements within the Afghan Taliban to use them as a buffer against DAESH in the country. Russian military is believed to be providing logistical support and intelligence to the Taliban to better assist the group in fighting a common nemesis. No doubt, Afghan officials have unequivocally expressed their detestation about the leaked reports in this matter, since the Taliban will use the assisted weapons in targeting the Afghan armed forces instead.

It is now up to the Afghan government to act on these referrals and reassure president Putin and Russian officials of its determination in going after the group with mighty force and result-oriented operations to establish itself as a trustworthy and sole legit ally in the fight against the ISIS in Afghanistan.  

Naser Koshan, freelancer

Washington, U.S.

June, 2017

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