Drone attack cannot substantially weaken ISIS forces in Afghanistan; situation still ‘awkward’ for US: experts
Published: Aug 28, 2021 10:09 AM
Kabul airport explosion Photo:VCG


The US' latest airstrike against an ISIS-K planner is a retaliatory attack trying to save face; it cannot substantially weaken ISIS forces in Afghanistan or wipe them all out and the situation is still awkward for the US, Chinese analysts said in response to the US Central Command's statement that confirmed the move on Friday.

"US military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties," Capt. Bill Urban of the US Central Command was cited by CNN on Friday as saying.

The statement confirming the airstrike came one day after US President Joe Biden vowed to retaliate for two bomb attacks launched by ISIS-K near Kabul airport killing at least 13 US soldiers and more than 100 Afghanis. 

Chinese experts reached by the Global Times said the US' move is unlikely to yield a substantial effect in fully wiping out the force.

"The US did not kill the leader of ISIS-K, but just an alleged 'planner.' Even if the current leader of ISIS-K were killed, it would not help eliminate the force," Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Saturday.

ISIS-K is a branch of Islamic State in Afghanistan. It was officially accepted by the core ISIS group in January 2015, and actively operates in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan's north. It is one of the most violent and extreme terrorist groups in Afghanistan and is believed to be responsible for attacks on hospitals, schools and public areas. 

In August 2016, the US announced that then ISIS-K leader Hafiz Saeed Khan was killed during a US drone attack in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province. Saeed was succeeded by Abdul Hasib, who was in turn killed by Afghan and US Special Forces in Nangarhar in April 2017. 

However, ISIS-K still "remains active and dangerous" all these years, according to a United Nations report in June 2021. "This tells us that simply killing a 'planner' it claimed may not help the US save face and get itself out of the quagmire," Zhu said.

"CNN mentioned 'over-the-horizon' counterterrorism, which is a key point of Biden's justification for the withdrawal from Afghanistan - that the US has developed such counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability which allows it to keep its eyes fixed on any direct threat to the US in the region. This is also a term to try to justify the chaos Washington has created," Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Saturday.

There are still a few days before the deadline of August 31 for the full withdrawal of US troops, and Zhu said that ISIS-K may still launch an attack against the US during this period. "However, this may not affect the US' process of withdrawal. It will only make Washington more embarrassed," he said.

The suicide attacks by ISIS-K may further strengthen the Afghan Taliban's resolution in combating terrorism, experts said.

The Afghan Taliban, which has been long criticized for its ties with extremist groups, denounced ISIS-K's attacks hours after the incident. "The Islamic Emirate strongly condemns the bombing of civilians at Kabul airport, which took place in an area where US forces are responsible for security," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted on Thursday.

Chinese analysts believe the Afghan Taliban is set to meet the basic requirements of the international community on anti-terrorism.

"The Afghan Taliban should earnestly honor its commitment, make a clean break with all terrorist organizations, resolutely fight against ETIM [East Turkistan Islamic Movement] and clear the way for regional security, stability, development and cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the press conference on Friday,

"The Taliban's response shows it hopes to prove that it is indeed not interested in making Afghanistan a gathering place for terrorism, and starting to systematically cut itself off from terrorist organizations," Shen said.

Global Times