May 15, 2020
IntelBrief: Terrorist Attacks Devastate Afghanistan and Threaten Peace Process
Devastating terrorist attacks in Afghanistan earlier this week shocked the country and threatened to derail an already tenuous peace process. The first attack occurred in Nangahar, where a suicide bombing at a funeral for the commander of a local police district, killed two dozen people and injured another 68 more. The Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, Islamic State Khorasan Province, known as ISKP or ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack. Many prominent local government officials attended the funeral, and a member of the provincial council was among those reported killed in the blast. The other attack stands out for its sheer barbarity and pure evil. In western Kabul, terrorists stormed a maternity ward at a Doctors Without Borders hospital and murdered newborn babies, new mothers, and pregnant women in labor. After a four-hour battle between the terrorists and Afghan security forces, 16 innocent lives were taken, including two newborn babies. The depravity is difficult to process even by the most extreme standards of the horrors of decades of conflict and violence in Afghanistan.
So far, there has been no claim of responsibility for the maternity ward attack, although many analysts suspect that ISIS-K was indeed responsible, especially since the hospital primarily serviced Hazara and Shiite Afghans. Given the worldwide outrage in response to the attack, and how inexplicable the actions were, there may be no claim of responsibility forthcoming. It is possible that the attacks are in response to the arrest of several high-ranking ISIS-K leaders by Afghan intelligence over the past few weeks. In early April, Afghan forces apprehended ISIS-K leader Abdullah Orokzai (aka Aslam Farooqi) along with two other prominent terrorist operatives. Despite periodic claims by the Afghan government that ISIS-K is close to being defeated, the group has proven remarkably resilient and continuously resurfaces to launch spectacular attacks. The terrorists’ strategy includes pursuing a sectarian agenda and its attacks frequently target Afghan Shia. In early March, ISIS-K terrorists attacked a gathering of Hazara and Shia Afghans, killing 32 people. Later in the month, Islamic State militants stormed a Sikh Temple, where they conducted a six-hour siege, slaughtering 25 innocent worshipers.
Even though the Taliban denied responsibility for both attacks, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that the Afghan military would resume offensive operations against the militants. The Taliban called Ghani’s announcement equivalent to a ‘declaration of war’ and on Thursday, Taliban fighters carried out a truck bombing against an Afghan Army base in Gardez, killing five civilians and wounding 19 others, including Army personnel. The uptick in violence threatens to derail a fragile peace agreement signed six weeks ago between the United States and the Taliban, which was intended to make progress on ending the Taliban’s nearly two-decade long insurgency. The next step of the peace process is supposed to be the intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but talks have stalled for months, with both sides unable to come to terms over the parameters of a proposed prisoner swap.
Between the challenges posed by the coronavirus and the recent escalation of violence, hopes remain slim of the two sides making tangible progress anytime soon. Afghanistan remains among the poorest nations in the world and has suffered from terrorism, insurgency, and warlord rule for more than forty years. If the violence continues and talks collapse, Afghanistan could descend again into civil war, which will make dealing with the coronavirus response nearly impossible, given the country’s already limited healthcare infrastructure. This is another clear example of the humanitarian impacts of terrorism and violence in a country where civilians, including women and young children, remain the most vulnerable to the horrors of this conflict.
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