Few know better than the Taliban what a relentless foe the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan can be.

Much of the West considers the Taliban, which reclaimed power in the country in 2021, to be an extremist Islamic movement. But the Islamic State Khorasan, the affiliate that has been linked by U.S. officials to a terrorist attack in suburban Moscow on Friday, has slammed the Taliban government, calling the group’s version of Islamic rule insufficiently hard-line.

The Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, is one of the last significant antagonists that the Taliban face in Afghanistan. It has carried out a bloody drumbeat of attacks throughout the country in recent years, seeking to use the violence to undermine the Taliban’s relationships with regional allies and to portray the government as incapable of providing security in Afghanistan, experts say.

In the months after the Taliban seized power, ISIS-K carried out near daily attacks on their soldiers at roadside checkpoints and in neighborhoods that are home to the country’s Hazara ethnic minority. The following year, ISIS-K fighters attacked the Russian Embassy in Kabul, tried to assassinate Pakistan’s top diplomat to Afghanistan and sent gunmen into a prominent hotel in Kabul that was home to many Chinese nationals, seeking to undermine the Taliban’s promise of restoring peace.

More recently, ISIS-K’s attacks have grown bolder and stretched beyond Afghanistan’s borders: The group killed at least 43 people in an assault on a political rally in northern Pakistan in July. It killed at least 84 people in two suicide bombings in Iran in January. Now, U.S. officials say ISIS-K was behind the attack in Moscow, which killed at least 133 people.

In recent months, ISIS-K has threatened attacks against the Chinese, Indian and Iranian Embassies in Afghanistan. It has also released a flood of anti-Russian propaganda, denouncing the Kremlin for its interventions in Syria and condemning the Taliban for engaging with the Russian authorities decades after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.


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