Photo: U.S. Department of State

West Hails Taliban Offensive against ISKP, Says Threat Still Exists

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West said that his country’s “most critical” interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that it never again becomes a safe haven for terror groups.

Speaking to the Washington-based think tank, Stimson Center, on Tuesday, West said that the group the US is “most worried” about in Afghanistan is the Islamic State—Khorasan Province (ISKP).

He lauded the Taliban’s offensive against the ISKP in Afghanistan since overtaking power in August 2021 and averred that the latter’s threat still remains a concern for the US.

Since early this year, he noted, the Taliban has “significantly degraded ISKP capabilities” by carrying out an “aggressive and violent” offensive and killing at least eight main ISKP leaders some of whom were responsible for “external plots.”

The US Special Envoy deemed it “positive” for the people in Afghanistan, too.

“As a result of this offensive, we have seen a steady decrease in large-scale ISKP attacks against the Afghan civilians, largely against the Hazara population,” The Special Envoy said.

A Human Rights Watch report showed that at least 700 Hazaras were killed or wounded by ISKP in thirteen separate attacks between August 2021 and September 2022.

Further, West assessed Al-Qaeda’s threat potential from Afghanistan and Pakistan at its “lowest point”, stating the group has lost “leadership” and “target access” following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said that the Taliban were sheltering its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a US drone strike in Kabul in July 2022.

This assessment was also recently echoed by the US National Counterterrorism Center Director Christy Abizaid who said that the revival of Al-Qaeda is “unlikely” as the group has “lost target access, leadership talent, group cohesion, rank-and-file commitment, and an accommodating local environment.” 

The US, West said, will maintain capabilities to monitor the situation in Afghanistan, adding that his country will act when it sees the need to protect its civilians and interests.

The US Special Envoy called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) the militant group that is posing the “greatest threat to the stability of the region.” He indicated that the TTP has carried out significant attacks inside Pakistan.

The TTP has resurged in Pakistan in recent years, raging violent attacks against Pakistani security forces and civilians. Islamabad has been pressing the Taliban to rein in cross-border TTP attacks, complaining that the group enjoys “greater operational freedom” in Afghanistan.

A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) suggested that terror attacks saw an 83% rise in Pakistan in August—the highest in a single month since November 2014.