• Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Scholarly release - ISIS-K: deadly nuisance or strategic threat?

Discussion in 'Strategic & Foreign Affairs' started by LeGenD, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. LeGenD

    LeGenD ELITE MEMBER

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    Abstract

    In 2014, an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria emerged in Afghanistan. Wilayat Khorasan, or ISIS-K, intends to secure Afghanistan to legitimize the Islamic State’s caliphate across the ‘Khorasan Province’ including portions of Central Asia, China, Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. While the group’s intent is clear, its capability confounds analysts. The authors argue that Wilayat Khorasan is likely the Islamic State’s most viable and lethal regional affiliate based on an expansionist military strategy. This is designed to enable the group’s encirclement of Jalalabad City in Nangarhar Province and is foundational to its expanded operational reach, regionalization, and lethality. Since 2016, the US-led Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy has disrupted ISIS-K’s critical requirements and prevented external attacks. Yet, raids and strikes alone will not defeat ISIS-K. They must be calibrated against an institution-building approach that legitimizes Afghanistan’s government and redresses grievances that ISIS-K exploits to resolve.

    Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09592318.2018.1546293?journalCode=fswi20

    NOTE: I can make full read possible, if requested.
     
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  2. HRK

    HRK PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    plz post full report if its not a hassle for you
     
  3. LeGenD

    LeGenD ELITE MEMBER

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    Sure, Sir. As soon as I am back in my home.
     
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  4. HRK

    HRK PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    Thnx .....

    one more thing .... I think we should drop this 'Sir' thing in our future conversation

    Regards,
     
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  5. war&peace

    war&peace ELITE MEMBER

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    Brother, bhai, chacha, uncle which one :p:

    me too
     
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  6. HRK

    HRK PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    Grandpa ..... :whistle::whistle:
     
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  7. war&peace

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    :agree::disagree: :D
     
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  8. LeGenD

    LeGenD ELITE MEMBER

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    DISCLAIMER

    1. Full text of the scholarly article provided below.
    2. In-text citations omitted for plain reading experience.
    3. References omitted due to (2).

    To cite this article: Paul Lushenko, Lance Van Auken & Garrett Stebbins (2019) ISISK:
    deadly nuisance or strategic threat?, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 30:2, 265-278, DOI:
    10.1080/09592318.2018.1546293

    --- --- ---

    In 2014, several groups aligned with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They combined to form the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) or Wilayat Khorasan. The group intends to secure Afghanistan to legitimize the Islamic State’s caliphate across the ‘Khorasan Province’ encompassing parts of Central Asia, China, Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Since 2016, the US-led Coalition has pursued a counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS-K consisting of raids, lethal strikes, and clearance operations in partnership with Afghan forces. The Taliban’s own offensives against ISIS-K have incidentally complemented the Coalition’s operations and presented the network multiple dilemmas. In May 2017, the US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, directed General (Retired) John Nicholson, then Commander of US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan, to ‘annihilate’ ISIS-K. This guidance encouraged a heightened operations tempo enabled by enhanced targeting authorities authorized by President Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy. Even given the renewed effort, ISIS-K has demonstrated resiliency as noted by a recent United Nations Security Council report released in January 2018.

    While ISIS-K’s intent is clear, its capability confounds security analysts and assessments vary radically. Some minimize ISIS-K and characterize it as merely a composite organization of loosely affiliated defectors from alQaeda, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Taliban, and TTP. Others liken ISIS-K to the ‘boogeyman under the bed’. At most, and aside from Russia’s use of ISIS-K to justify a revanchist policy in Central Asia, casual observers contend ISIS-K is ‘more a deadly nuisance than a strategic threat’. More attention is paid to ISIS-K’s estimated end-strength, which at between 1000 and 5000 members pales in comparison to the Taliban’s 40,000–60,000 followers, rather than appreciating the network’s operational reach and lethality. This line of reasoning is dangerous but predictable. It is redolent of earlier attempts to moderate the spectre surrounding ISIS-K’s emergence given competing priorities, namely the Coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. On 20 April 2015, for example, a former Pentagon spokesmen prematurely reasoned ‘the conditions in Afghanistan are such that ISIL would [not] be welcome’.

    Amid the Islamic State’s losses in Iraq and Syria, we argue that Wilayat Khorasan is likely ISIS’ most viable and lethal regional affiliate. The network continues to broaden its operational reach beyond eastern Afghanistan into areas that are weakly governed and poorly secured, and even the Taliban cannot repel ISIS-K. This is foundational to the threat ISIS-K poses to regional security, and the group has demonstrated both the intent and capability to inspire, enable, and direct attacks beyond Afghanistan. These considerations help explain why senior Afghan security officials, at the same time they acknowledge that the Taliban represents Afghanistan’s existential threat, are concerned that ISIS-K is becoming more dangerous, especially given its appeal among the youth and intelligentsia in Afghanistan and across the region.8 The remainder of this paper unfolds in three parts. First, we briefly canvass ISIS-K’s emergence. Given this context, we next introduce the group’s military strategy as a lens to understand its expansion, regionalization, and lethality. We conclude by addressing several implications for the Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy.

    The emergence of Wilayat Khorasan

    On 15 July 2014, multiple TTP groups merged to form Tehrik-e Khilafat Pakistan (TKP) led by Hafiz Saeed Khan. The Islamic State’s wider caliphate-building project encouraged defecting commanders and their fighters to sever ties with the TTP. Known as the ‘Movement for the Caliphate in Pakistan’, TKP constituted the political backbone of ISIS-K and attracted around 2000 jihadists drawn from across Pakistan’s key population centres, including Bajaur, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. The Islamic State accepted the TKP’s pledge of allegiance on 10 January 2015 and appointed Khan as ISIS-K’s inaugural leader. He demonstrated the loyalty and charisma necessary to galvanize variegated organizations with multiple interests and stakeholders. Abu Muhammed alAdnani, the Islamic State’s public relations official in Syria, announced ISIS-K’s formation on 26 January 2015 after which the founding cadre infiltrated the Spin Ghar mountain range of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. Through what Borhan Osman describes as a ‘campaign of beheadings’, Khan and his governing shura forcibly displaced residents not supportive of the Islamic State’s eschatology or ‘end-of-times’ ideology. This enabled ISIS-K to consolidate its Islamic governorate with the trappings of civil services including agriculture, education, finance, health, immigration, and judicial departments.

    Khan, until his death in 2016, attempted to rapidly expand ISIS-K’s territory resulting in a dramatic increase in internecine violence that further destabilized Afghanistan. Infighting was most acute between ISIS-K and the Taliban given the latter’s goal to ‘Talibanize’ Afghanistan. To preserve its primacy, the Taliban has targeted Wilayat Khorasan since 2016 and recently blocked its expansion into Ghor and Zabul Provinces. In other areas, namely Kunar and Jowzjan Provinces, ISIS-K has not only endured, but expanded and largely at a cost to the Taliban. This is more impressive still given the Coalition’s unremitting strikes, raids, and clearance operations. Since March 2017, the Coalition has conducted thousands of ground tactical operations and strikes against ISIS-K. This includes the employment of the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in combat – the GBU-43 – against ISIS-K’s headquarters in southern Nangarhar. The results of these operations have been palpable. The Coalition has killed the network’s leader thrice over as well as thousands of fighters, reduced ISIS-K’s territory in southern Nangarhar, disrupted the network’s foreign donations, and isolated key leaders. Most recently, the Coalition killed Qari Hikmatullah following an airstrike in Jowzjan on 9 April 2018. According to the New York Times, Qari was admonished by the Taliban for his ‘extreme savagery’ and therefore joined ISIS-K where he roused Jowzjan’s Uzbek constituency to join the group, some after splitting from the IMU.

    His removal, coupled with the infighting that followed, encouraged the Taliban to counterattack in August 2018 eventually compelling ISIS-K to surrender en masse to Coalition Forces. Yet, Wilayat Khorasan occupies more territory today than it did in 2015. The group has replenished its combat losses through defectors from other extremist groups and recruits from across the region. It has also harnessed social media to recruit globally, established strongholds in remote terrain, and continues to execute an expansionist military strategy.

    ISIS-K’s military strategy

    Wilayat Khorasan continues to establish redoubts across Afghanistan to spread its influence through small bands of guerillas that absorb locals and subsume competing groups. The strategy nests with ISIS-K’s broader aspiration to regionalize the Islamic State’s ideology and caliphate. It is characterized by a decisive effort in Nangarhar Province, supporting effort in Kunar Province, and until recently, a shaping effort in Jowzjan Province (see Figure 1). Nangarhar constitutes the network’s headquarters and enables mission command; Kunar facilitates indoctrination, training, and attacks; and, Jowzjan serves as a reception centre for foreign fighters, some fleeing Iraq and Syria but the preponderance drawn from Central and South Asia, as well as Europe. These efforts are designed to enable the group to encircle Jalalabad City in Nangarhar. Set against this strategy, ISIS-K intends to expand west in southern Nangarhar to seize areas historically controlled by the Taliban on the periphery of Jalalabad City. This will also provide ISIS-K access to a vital artery, the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, which will enable facilitation from Pakistan as well as attacks against Kabul City. To achieve these intermediate objectives, ISIS-K will pursue guerilla tactics to outmanoeuvre Afghan and Coalition forces and avoid decisive engagements. Similarly, the network will consolidate its position in Kunar, and potentially renew its efforts in Jowzjan, to encourage a hasty deployment of Taliban forces that will create vulnerabilities elsewhere that ISIS-K can then exploit. If successful, Wilayat Khorasan could isolate Jalalabad City and further destabilize eastern Afghanistan. The group’s long-term viability is a function of its ambitious strategy and helps explain its expanding operational reach, threat to regional security, and alarming lethality.

    [​IMG]

    Figure 1. ISIS-K’s disposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Operational reach

    Since 2015, ISIS-K has expanded its operational reach, or the distance from southern Nangarhar that the group can apply its combat power and influence among vulnerable denizens that may otherwise tacitly support the group out of fear and repression. The group has done this through territorial advances, attacks, and information operations. The accumulation of tactical successes against the Taliban in 2015 enabled ISIS-K to assume control of nine districts in southern Nangarhar. The Coalition initiated a series of clearance operations in early 2016 that forced ISIS-K to consolidate and reorganize within two districts, Achin and Naziyan. On 9 July 2018, Coalition Forces captured ISIS-K's declared capital in the adjacent district of Deh Bala. This forced a preponderance of the network’s leaders and fighters to establish a new enclave further south closer to the Pakistan border. Despite these losses, ISIS-K has persisted and managed to wrest control of several districts from the Taliban in Kunar, including historic al-Qaeda support zones. Although defeated by the Taliban in Jowzjan, ISISK’s erstwhile foothold in this area provided access to the sympathetic Uzbek diaspora and Central Asian extremists from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. According to Antonio Giustozzi and Anna Matveeva, Central Asian militants are especially susceptible to the ISIS-K’s microtargeting due to an enduring perception that ‘state institutions are unresponsive to their problems and they are marginalised because of ethnicity’.

    Wilayat Khorasan has also professionalized its attacks to demonstrate resiliency, encourage international donors, and attract recruits. It achieved an almost 100% increase in attacks across Afghanistan and Pakistan year over year between 2016 and 2017 resulting in approximately 1000 civilians killed and an additional 2000 wounded. The group’s attacks in Kabul City have even outpaced the Haqqani Network, which previously set the tempo. Yet, ISIS-K’s attacks are generally less casualty producing than the Haqqani Network’s. Wilayat Khorasan’s largest attack, against the Imam Zaman Mosque in Kabul City in October 2017, resulted in almost 70 killed. In contrast, the Haqqani Network detonated a car bomb in May 2017 in Kabul City that killed 150. Yet, these are extreme figures and ISIS-K’s attacks generally produce a fraction of the casualties compared to the Haqqani Network’s operations.

    Wilayat Khorasan has supplemented its territorial gains with information operations that ‘suggests a sophisticated, data driven approach to radicalization and recruiting that includes intentional market segmentation’, according to Colleen McCue. The Voice of the Caliphate radio-station, or Da Kilifat Ghag, has broadcast propaganda across Afghanistan near daily since 2015. This supplements ISIS’ transregional media platforms, such as al-Amaq, which emphasize ISIS-K’s battlefield successes from Syria. The media outlet often claims credit for ISIS-K attacks within 1 h after their execution reflecting prior collaboration that indicates ISIS-K maintains a cadre of media officials that synchronize operations and social outreach. Similar to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS-K has also introduced a ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’ program to recruit and radicalize children aged 6–16. These socalled ‘child soldiers’ are indoctrinated in camps across Jowzjan, Kunar, and Nangarhar through a regimented pedagogy prescribed by Islamic State educators in Syria. This mandates the use of novel phone applications, computer games interwoven with counter-western messaging, propagandized textbooks, incendiary lectures, and roleplaying. Reportedly, ‘the idea of being part of something bigger than themselves, a battle between good and evil’, encourages impressionable adolescents to commit to ISIS-K unaware of the often irrevocable psychological and/or physical consequences. The group’s deliberate operationalization of children is apparently designed to exploit western legal and moral prohibitions against targeting youth. If not addressed, this practice threatens to institutionalize the enduring recruitment of new, younger, and perhaps more ardent supporters into ISIS-K.

    Regional security threat

    Analysts often conflate ISIS-K’s physical centre-of-gravity in eastern Afghanistan with the scope of its regional designs. However, Wilayat Khorasan is a threat to regional security and should be treated as such. An article in the fourteenth issue of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s inaugural magazine, identifies control of Afghanistan and Pakistan as decisive to ISIS-K’s intent to instantiate the Islamic State across Central and South Asia. The article states ‘Bengal is located on the eastern side of India, whereas Wilayat Khorasan is located on its western side. Thus, having a strong jihad base in Bengal will facilitate performing guerilla attacks inside India simultaneously from both sides’. A commitment to supplant existing militant groups east of Afghanistan explains ISIS-K’s efforts to establish new affiliates in South and Southeast Asia.

    The network has capitalized on territorial and ethnic flashpoints to franchise its operations across the region. In February 2016, ISIS-K expressed its intent to exploit the irredentist dispute between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, and reports of ISIS attacks in the area since then suggest that the network has established a presence. The group is likely responsible for two attacks in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir,
    since November 2017 including one in late February 2018 that resulted in the death of a police officer. Wilayat Khorasan claimed credit for the attack on al-Amaq as well as in a private Telegram chatroom, Al-Qarar. The chatroom, discovered a month earlier by authorities, is the chief communication medium for ISIS-K’s local affiliate. These operations may explain the rationale behind a Twitter post in March 2018 by Al-Hsuam, an ISIS affiliated media outlet, dictating that ‘Kashmir is under the Willaya khorrasan officially and not a Willaya’. Similarly, ISIS-K has exploited resentment from Rohingya refugees systematically dislocated from Myanmar to Bangladesh through periodic pogroms since the 1970s to indigenize its agenda among the marginalized Muslim population. This initiative coincides with the group’s suspected support to several attacks in Bangladesh including an attack in Dhaka in July 2016 that injured 22 civilians. This incident points to ISIS-K’s larger project of enabling a so-called ‘Bengal governorate’ and contributed to the recent designation of ISIS-Bangladesh as a terrorist
    organization by the US State Department.

    Wilayat Khorasan has enjoyed less success, however, in establishing a meaningful base in India even though it published a video in May 2016 commending Indians to join its ranks. Since officially outlawing the group in 2014, Indian authorities have foiled several attack plots although ISIS-K likely enabled an attack on a train in Madhya Pradesh in March 2017 resulting in the injury of over 10 passengers. While Indian security officials, similar to those in Bangladesh and Pakistan, contend they have expunged ISIS-K’s presence, the reality is different. India police forces, for instance, just arrested 103 ISIS-K sympathizers across 14 states including Kerala, Madhya
    Pradesh, and New Delhi. Known reports about the ISIS-K sinecure in Nangarhar indicate that the group continues to attract sympathizers from South and Southeast Asia. In point of fact, on 25 March 2018, India’s National Intelligence Agency court levied its first conviction against an ISIS-K facilitator, Yasmeen Mohammed Zahid. She allegedly recruited and enabled the movement of 14 Indians into Nangarhar to join ISIS-K between
    May and July 2016.

    Lethality

    Wilayat Khorasan is the most lethal extremist group in Afghanistan given its intent and capability to inspire, enable, and direct attacks abroad. This is an important distinction that is often eschewed in analyses of ISIS-K. The Haqqani Network is routinely consigned as the most lethal organization in Afghanistan given its massive car bombs and complex attacks that incorporate suicide bombers. Yet, it does not intend to attack America and other western countries. It is a localized threat that wages attacks in Kabul City to delegitimize the Afghan government for the purpose of re-establishing an Islamic Emirate under the agency of its parent organization, the Taliban. In contrast, a recent Institute for the Study of War report, entitled ‘ISIS Plotting Attacks from Afghanistan’, argues that ISIS-K uses social media to encourage and facilitate sympathizers to attack the Unites States and its allies and partners, both regionally and globally. In October 2017, for example, the US Justice Department arrested three ISIS-K operatives who were in the final throes of executing attacks in New York City. Officially sanctioned by ISIS-K’s leadership, the operatives intended to ‘kill. . .them [Americans] in thousands’ and ‘make a[n] ocean out of their blood’. In the same month, an Uzbek national careened his vehicle down a street in New York City resulting in the death of eight pedestrians evidencing the vulnerability of Central Asia’s diaspora to the Islamic State. The Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy is designed as an insurance policy against ISIS-K’s external operations, as well as the network’s ability to encourage sympathizers across the globe to conduct similar attacks. Shortly after assuming command of US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan on 02 September 2018, General Austin “Scott” Miller reiterated this logic. ‘All of us, and through our coalition of 41 nations,’ he intoned, ‘recognize the threats posed by groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS and are determined to fight them here’.

    Implications

    The Coalition has pursued a counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS-K for over 2 years but the group continues to execute its expansionist military strategy. Even as the Coalition has shrunk ISIS-K’s physical caliphate within southern Nangarhar, the network has occupied new territory across Afghanistan, and mostly at the Taliban’s expense. Whereas ISIS-K may have constituted a ‘deadly nuisance’ a year ago, the group has professionalized its attack capability and its operations tempo supersedes the Haqqani Network. More disquieting is ISIS-K’s adaption. The network has capitalized on its increasingly sophisticated attacks within Afghanistan to establish a cadre of facilitators capable of inspiring, enabling, and directing attacks abroad through social media. Wilayat Khorasan’s resiliency begs important questions. What accounts for ISIS-K’s resolve? What is the depth of ISIS-K’s presence in Pakistan? To what extent has ISIS-K entrenched itself in South and Southeast Asia? How do foreign fighters infiltrating Afghanistan affect ISIS-K’s lethality? What are the implications of the Taliban’s possible pursuit of a negotiated settlement with the Afghan government on ISIS-K’s longevity? What does ISIS-K’s defeat or success in Afghanistan mean for the group’s regional solvency given its emerging franchises? What are the consequences of ISIS-K’s endurance on the security policies of regional powers? These and related questions suggest several implications for the Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy.

    There is little consensus on the threat posed by ISIS-K and regional states pursue misaligned counter-terrorism strategies that the network exploits to endure. If ISIS-K is a threat to regional security, then its defeat presupposes a regional counter-terrorism strategy operationalized through multilateral security fora. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is the subject of a ‘new great game’ that subordinates its security to the competing interests of regional and great powers. Suspicion, especially between India and Pakistan as well as America and Russia, has stymied security cooperation through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, ‘6 + 1’ mechanism, and other regional fora. Instead, regional powers have attempted to unilaterally manage ISIS-K if not pit multilateral organizations against each other for their own security interests. The result of these practices has been to exacerbate interlocking security dilemmas.

    On the one hand, the Coalition must now contend with Russia’s statements that it, similar Iran and Pakistan, has provided the Taliban lethal aid to reverse ISIS-K’s momentum. As opposed to Iran and Pakistan, Russia is evidently considering unilateral operations against ISIS-K that stand to replicate the confused situation in Syria. Moscow’s special representative to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, also recently offered to broker a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. At the same time, Islamabad’s inconvertible support to the Taliban has caused Washington to recalibrate its South Asia policy resulting in numerous demarches, suspension of over one billion dollars in military aid, and scrutiny by international financial institutions including the Financial Action Task Force. In response, Pakistan suggests India’s subterfuge is responsible for America’s biting measures and Islamabad has directed its ire towards New Delhi, its existential threat. Meanwhile, Russia has promoted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to address ISIS-K in contradistinction to the Coalition’s use of other preferred fora including the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (consisting of Afghanistan, America, China, and Pakistan). Managing these and other tensions, as well as the interactions between them, is easier said than done. However, Wilayat Khorasan is a common threat and shared interest in its defeat may help forge complementary security policies and synchronized targeting across regional states.

    Notwithstanding the lack of regional cooperation, what can be done in the near term to optimize the Coalition’s counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS-K? First, the Coalition should emphasize the importance of intelligence sharing among regional powers, even if bilateral and transactional in nature, to facilitate more effective targeting against ISIS-K. This is a necessary precondition to disrupt, destroy, and eventually defeat the group’s critical requirements, particularly finance, leadership, and media, which transcend regional boundaries. Second, the Coalition must manage expectations regarding the feasibility of ‘annihilating’ ISIS-K through a largely unidimensional counter-terrorism strategy. To a degree, raids and lethal strikes have disrupted ISIS-K as well as prevented some external attacks. Less certain is the strategy’s ability to redress social, political, and economic grievances that set the conditions for ISIS-K’s emergence in the first place, as well as influence Afghan forces to consolidate gains by facilitating governance in areas once occupied by Wilayat Khorasan. The group, similar to the Taliban, has exploited the Afghan government’s neo-patrimonial practices responsible for institutionalizing corruption through a bureaucracy that represents more a tool of covetous officials rather than a way to provide security and prosperity for Afghans. The government’s reticence to occupy terrain after dislocating ISIS-K has also allowed the group to consolidate and reorganize.

    Unless or until the Afghan government pursues meaningful reforms, holds corrupt officials accountable, and occupies terrain after rooting out ISIS-K, the group will benefit from disillusioned Pashtuns and other ethnic communities to maintain its momentum. The US–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership, referred to as the ‘Compact’ and signed in in December 2017, is a step in the right direction. It outlines 200 standards, promulgated by international society, to deliberately manage Afghanistan’s political, economic, and social reforms before 2020. The Coalition’s emphasis on high value targeting, or the capturing and killing of ISIS-K leaders and fighters, is problematic because it is merely a tactic and not strategically decisive. It must be calibrated against an institutionbuilding approach, like the Compact, to justify the Afghan government as a legitimate authority worth supporting among Afghans. Only then will the Coalition help ensure ISIS-K is a ‘deadly nuisance’ versus the ‘strategy threat’ it increasingly represents.

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  9. HRK

    HRK PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    would give it detail read tomorrow
    thnx for posting the complete report
     
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