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ISIS Kills Dozens Of Taliban Fighters As Terror Groups Clash For Control Of Afghanistan’s Future

Sometimes there are obvious good guys and bad guys. Think the Axis powers vs. the Allied powers in World War II. Other times, the dynamics of warfare are more morally complex. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 comes to mind. And then there are other times still, where you want both sides to be defeated and suffer insurmountable losses in a game of mutually assured destruction. This is one of those times. ISIS and the Taliban are at war in Afghanistan. Both Islamist militant groups carry the black flag of jihad. Both groups have spilled American blood. Indeed, both groups are martyring themselves for the same cause in Afghanistan.

As Business Insider notes, “The Taliban and IS are both fighting to overthrow Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government and impose a harsh version of Islamic rule, but they are bitterly split over leadership and tactics. The IS affiliate is largely made up of disgruntled former Taliban fighters.”

Beginning on Tuesday, ISIS militants carried out a series of attacks against Taliban targets in the northern province of Jawzjan. The bitter firefight lasted two days, killing 76 Taliban fighters and 15 ISIS fighters, according to spokesman for the provincial governor, Mohammad Reza Ghafori.

There were no reported civilian casualties. This was a battle between jihadists for control over Afghanistan.

Intra-jihadist violence is nothing new. In fact, the battlefields of Syria are littered with a menagerie of Sunni jihadist groups at each other’s throats. Theologically, these jihadist groups may only disagree on minor issues. But in the heat of battle, the groups seem worlds apart.

Like Mad Max war boys hopped-up on “Valhalla spray,” young jihadists, emboldened by captagon, their own drug of choice, are deployed to the front lines like cannon fodder to carry out the will of senior leaders and warlords without really understanding the political or ideological variations between the opposing group they’re fighting against.

What separates ISIS from the Taliban appears to be tactics. The Taliban is devoted to establishing an Islamist state in Afghanistan. Its ultimate end-goal is to eradicate foreign “occupiers” and regional governments aligned with the West. In contrast, ISIS is a trans-national jihadist group with imperialist ambitions. Known for its brutal tactics, ISIS hopes to establish an Islamic caliphate across the Levant. The group considers modern borders to be contrivances of the post-colonial era. There’s a reason why the group’s branch in Afghanistan self-identifies as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province‎‎ (English for ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām – Wilayah Khorasan). “Khorasan” is the historical region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The term hasn’t been used since the age of the Islamic caliphs. By scattering fighters across borders, ISIS hopes to resurrect a medieval-era trans-national caliphate where Sharia law reigns supreme.

Despite the Islamic States’ unabashed zealotry, the Taliban has one big advantage over ISIS-Khorasan, ISIS-K: manpower. It’s estimated that ISIS-K only has between 600-800 fighters left.

The Taliban, on the other hand, is estimated to have tens of thousands of fighters ready to do battle with U.S., Afghan, and ISIS forces. While ISIS-K is largely comprised of local Afghans that were once loyal to the Taliban but have since joined the more extreme jihadist group, the Taliban, as an institution, has had a presence in Afghanistan for decades. Before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban controlled the country, imposing its own version of Sharia upon civilians.

Under President George W. Bush, the Taliban went into hiding. Backed by a strong U.S. presence, governing bodies in Kabul gained legitimacy and power, marginalizing Taliban holdouts. For all intents and purposes, the Taliban was dead. That was until President Obama’s ill-advised troop pull-out in late 2014. Without U.S. military support, the Afghan military began crumbling. Underpaid and under-trained, Afghan soldiers began defecting to the Taliban and other resurging Islamist groups in the years following Obama’s politicized decision to massively decrease America’s footprint in Afghanistan.

Three years later, the United States is back in Afghanistan. In the 16 years since the war began, Afghan forces have never been hungrier for U.S. support as Taliban insurgents colonize more territory and recruit more fighters for their cause.

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