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FLASH ALERT: INCREASED THREAT TO PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN FOLLOWING NEW ISIS-K TACTICS

Updated: Nov 21

Team: CENTCOM Team

Cassi Townsend, Clea Guastavino, Senior Editors

Week of: Monday, November 15, 2021


Effects of explosives on a vehicle[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Afghanistan and other countries with personnel and citizens in Afghanistan due to the increased threat posed by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) as they attempt to spoil the Taliban-controlled government’s reconstruction efforts. The current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that the group will continue to threaten Taliban forces and civilians in Kabul with magnetic bombs attached to vehicles. Their tactics are very likely to evolve to adapt to the Taliban’s improving security posture. The current CTG threat matrix also indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of additional attacks in Kabul as rival groups exploit the country’s instability. It is very likely that ISIS-K perpetrated all of the recent attacks as it claimed responsibility for them and because it is one of the only groups with the operational capabilities to violently oppose the Taliban-controlled government.


On Saturday, November 13, 2021, an explosion hit a vehicle in Kabul, leaving one dead and four wounded.[2] On November 15, one person was killed and two people were wounded in a bomb blast in the Kot-e-Sangi area in Police District 5 in western Kabul.[3] On November 17, two explosions occurred in Kabul.[4] One car bomb blast in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood killed one and wounded six, and Taliban forces are still gathering information about an explosion in the nearby Karte 3 neighborhood. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for all the attacks. Magnetic mines and vehicle bombs were used in all four attacks.[5]


In October 2021, ISIS-K targeted mosques countrywide in a series of attacks including Gozar-e Syed Abad Mosque in Kunduz on October 8[6] and Bibi Fatima Mosque Kandahar on October 15.[7] These November attacks likely indicate a shift in ISIS-K’s targets and geographical scope, concentrating their attacks on Kabul. Attacks in Kabul will almost certainly have a greater influence on the population's security perception while weakening the Taliban-controlled government's claims of providing order in the city. This is very likely to be reinforced by the attention these attacks have received in the domestic and international press. Alternatively, the shift in operations could be interpreted as showing that the Taliban have likely improved the security in sites where large social gatherings are common, such as mosques and markets. It is likely that this shift in strategy indicates that the Taliban have a roughly even chance of providing security to the people of Afghanistan. However, it is likely that the attacks that have occurred question the Taliban’s claims of providing security.


ISIS-K likely uses car bombs and sticky bombs because they are easily manufactured when plastic explosives are owned or captured from the Afghan National Army or the Taliban. ISIS-K very likely uses these sticky bombs due to their small size, ability to be adhered to surfaces without raising suspicions, and broader psychological impact on the public. The weapon’s success rate and the short timeframe of the November attacks – four attacks in five days – very likely indicates that ISIS-K will continue using this weapon in attacks in the upcoming weeks.


Some of ISIS-K’s explosions hit heavily Shia Muslim areas of Kabul and are the latest incidents in a series of attacks against the Shia community in the country.[8] It is likely that the Taliban will abstain from targeting the Shia Muslims in an effort to gain domestic goodwill and legitimacy among minorities. In addition, it is likely that the Shia community will seek the Taliban’s protection out of fear of ISIS-K’s frequent attacks.[9] Even though it is unlikely that discrimination against minorities such as the Shia will stop, it is likely that a new “ceasefire” between the Shia community and the Taliban will arise out of operational necessity.


The victim of the November 13 attack was Hamid Seighani, a journalist from the Ariana television network.[10] It is likely that ISIS-K targeted him with the aim of intimidating and stifling journalistic independence, a common occurrence as the press has been targeted in the past by the Taliban. By killing this journalist, ISIS-K is likely indicating that they are shifting tactics from mass public attacks to the selective killing of journalists. Although the previous attacks did not target journalists, this shift to individualized bombings almost certainly increases the unpredictability of attacks and complicates efforts to counter them. This will likely deter reporting in Afghanistan and complicate efforts at obtaining reliable information on issues of concern by the international community, specifically human rights abuses by the Taliban-controlled government and ISIS-K.


The Taliban-controlled government should establish regular and concise checkpoints in the entrances and major avenues of Kabul with vehicles being checked to see if they have sticky bombs attached. This is very likely to deter ISIS-K from carrying out attacks with this type of explosive as the controls would be likely to send the message that security in Kabul has been strengthened. The Taliban-controlled government security forces should also increase the frequency of the patrols in residential areas with the aim of deterring attacks from taking place. They should remain vigilant of explosives on vehicles even after they have passed through Taliban checkpoints. This increased security presence will very likely send the message that the Taliban can protect all Afghanistan, including Shia neighborhoods, which are likely to be continued targets of ISIS-K. Although the US has limited cooperation with the Taliban, providing signals’ intelligence support for operations against ISIS-K would likely advance its interests in the region. This is especially important after recent testimony by Department of Defense officials that ISIS-K could gain the capability to attack the US homeland in as little as a year.[11]


CTG assesses that the current threat of attacks by ISIS-K against foreign nationals, Afghan civilians, and Taliban forces is HIGH. The CENTCOM Team’s analysis indicates that the risk of increased violence focused towards civilians throughout Afghanistan is HIGH due to threats in highly-populated areas and the changing tactic from mass casualty attacks to car bombings. Attacks against Taliban leadership by ISIS-K and other rival militant groups will likely persist as long as the Taliban controls the government, likely for the medium to long term. CENTCOM will continue to monitor the situation.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. CTG resources are delivered to advise clients on a business resilience process using current threat intelligence data. We scan for threats across the following regions; Africa, Central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Asia-Pacific. Our organization assesses evolving threats through, Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) services. Our W.A.T.C.H Officers and Digital Targeters monitor the threat posed by cyber threats, insider threats, fraud, espionage, hazards, reputational damages, violent crime, kidnappings, and bombing threats. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


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[1]Effects of explosives on a vehicle” by Nate licensed under Public Domain

[2] Afghanistan: Deadly explosion hits mainly Shia suburb of Kabul, Al Jazeera, November 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/13/afghanistan-deadly-explosion-hits-mainly-shia-suburb-of-kabul

[3] Blast in Afghan capital wounds two, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/explosion-reported-kabul-residents-2021-11-15/

[4] ​​Two blasts hit Afghan capital Kabul, officials say, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/two-blasts-hit-afghan-capital-kabul-officials-say-2021-11-17/

[5] Ibid

[6] ISIS claims responsibility for deadly blast in Kunduz province, Khaama News Agency, October 2021, https://www.khaama.com/isis-claims-responsibility-for-deadly-blast-in-kunduz-province-457457/

[7] Deadly explosion hits Shia mosque in Afghanistan’s Kandahar, Al Jazeera, October 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/15/explosion-hits-shia-mosque-in-afghanistans-kandahar

[8] Blast in Afghan capital wounds two, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/explosion-reported-kabul-residents-2021-11-15/

[9] Despite mistrust, Afghan Shiites seek Taliban protection, Associated Press, November 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-islamic-state-group-taliban-kabul-race-and-ethnicity-8c81cda1748fe0fc92224317a7adf92b

[10] Blast Kills Afghan TV Journalist in Shi'ite Neighborhood of Kabul, Gandhara, November 2021, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-kabul-shiite-bombing/31559910.html

[11] ISIS-K could be able to launch attacks out of Afghanistan within a year, defense official says, CBS News, October 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-k-attacks-outside-of-afghanistan/

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