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In three days earlier this month, Islamist militants killed more than 120 civilians in a series of attacks in the Sahel, an increasingly lawless and violent belt of territory across Africa, where these groups have grown stronger in recent times. last years. Thousands of miles to the east, al-Shabaab fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda stormed a military base in central Somalia.

None of these attacks have received much attention – nor has the recent arrest of IS sympathizers in Australia, the attempted murder of a moderate politician in the Maldives, or a trial against activists who attacked LGBT activists in Bangladesh.

All should serve as a reminder that the events in Kabul will have consequences wherever jihadist groups exist and therefore for the threat to communities around the world, including in the West.

The most obvious “game changer” is the huge boost offered by the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, with the effects of that victory magnified by the chaos and humiliation of the US withdrawal. The defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan has long been claimed by global jihadists.

This is without historical justification – only a few hundred international extremists fought and made no significant contribution overall – but has become a founding myth of their movement. Today, a second superpower has been defeated, showing that “jihad and combat is the only realistic path,” as one Yemen-based group said.

But it is less clear that, as many analysts and experts have said, the events in Afghanistan have dramatically increased the threat to the UK, US and other Western states.

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British soldier and Afghan veteran, warned that there was an imminent prospect of attacks in the UK inspired by the fall of Kabul while Stephanie Foggett, a resident of the Soufan Center in New York, said the US exit could offer “significant opportunities” for extremist Islamist groups “to find refuge under Taliban protection and operational space to recruit, rearm and reunite in a way that allows for a refocus on the west in the future ”.

But not all experts are so convinced. Some believe that the new Afghan rulers will seek to contain al-Qaida, as they did when they were in power from 1996 to 2001, despite their warm relations, and point out that the Taliban have been fighting the Islamic State for many years. .

There is also a question of timescale.

“For the regional powers this will definitely be a problem… You have to care about Pakistan… and if Pakistan goes badly, it will resonate in the UK because of our close ties,” said Raffaello Pantucci, senior researcher at Royal United Services Institute in London.

A series of plots in the UK over the past 20 years have involved even more radicalized extremists, trained or mandated in Pakistan. The same has been true of a handful of attempts to provoke massive attacks elsewhere – in Western Europe and the United States.

But Pantucci said that a flow of volunteers to Afghanistan or Pakistan and their return was only “a potential risk in the medium and long term” and not “an immediate threat”.

In the United States, the main terrorist threat remains that of right-wing extremism, which has claimed more lives than violence linked to Islamists since the September 11 attacks, according to experts.

“We have not been spared and the list of isolated actors inspired by the global jihadist ideology trying to do what they can locally [in the US] with limited means, it’s a long time…. But it’s such a small fraction of individuals, ”said James Forest, professor at the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “The ideology just doesn’t resonate here like it does with marginalized Muslim communities in France or Belgium, even in parts of the UK.”

Analysts have sought to explain this by comparing the relative economic success of Muslim communities in the United States with those in Western Europe, or by highlighting different patterns of immigrant integration.

There is also the question of what lessons the various extremists draw from the victory of the Taliban. There have long been disputes between militant Islamist leaders who favor attacks against “the far enemy” – the West – and those who want to strike first against “the near enemy”, local governments and diets.

Factions that believe in temporary moderation to gain local support oppose those that refuse to compromise. The range of reactions to the Taliban’s victory – al-Qaida has been enthusiastic as ISIS has attacked the Taliban as “apostates” – has revealed how deep these divisions run.

“The Taliban are not the champions of the global jihadist agenda. The global jihadists did not achieve victory. The Taliban have a much more local and provincial focus, ”Forest said.

It could be crucial. Some analysts suggest that the Taliban’s pragmatic decisions to adapt to circumstances by carefully targeting their violence, emphasizing governance, negotiating with the United States, and at least trying to reassure international opinion will shape the impact of the movement’s victory.

“There is now an understanding [among extremist groups] that a phased strategy works, ”said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “The Taliban have succeeded in transforming a Muslim land. What we are seeing is local success, in part because the West’s resolve has weakened. It was in preparation before Afghanistan, but Afghanistan gives them hope.


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