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Years later, a branch of Al Qaeda broke up and established a so-called caliphate, an Islamic theocracy, across much of Iraq and Syria. At its peak, the territory was the size of Great Britain. This splinter faction, called the Islamic State, or ISIS, was more social media savvy than Al Qaeda and began to specialize in a cinematic approach to brutality. ISIS has appealed to a younger generation of fighters, in part by promising immediate glory and rewards to those willing to fight its enemies.

In 2015, ISIS announced that it had accepted the loyalty of a new branch in the Khorasan region.

Like other terrorist groups, ISIS-K has targeted US forces, their allies, and civilians. But unlike the others, ISIS-K has openly fought with other extremist Islamic organizations, such as the Taliban.

ISIS-K was primarily hostile to the Taliban, and both groups fought for territory, particularly in eastern Afghanistan. As of 2017, according to experts, ISIS-K has been responsible for around 250 clashes with US, Afghan and Pakistani security forces.

More recently, ISIS-K leaders have denounced the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, arguing that the group’s version of Islamic rule was not tough enough.

In October 2019, President Trump announced the murder of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declaring in a speech that he was “the founder and head of the Islamic State, the most ruthless and violent terrorist organization of the world”. Mr. Trump went on to say, “We wiped out his caliphate, 100%, in March of this year.”

In January 2020, Mr. Trump again boasted of having destroyed “100% of ISIS and its territorial caliphate”. He also said that before Mr. al-Baghdadi was killed, he “tried again to rebuild the ISIS caliphate and failed.”

Obviously, it wasn’t 100 percent.

Before Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, he had broadened the organization and given his subordinates considerable leeway to act. ISIS encouraged its supporters to act alone or in small groups. Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian expert on extremist groups, said at the time that “getting rid of the leader does not get rid of the organization.”


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