Updated: Mar 7
The Islamic State (ISIS) group has arrived in Afghanistan and is planning to replace the Taliban as the major belligerent force opposing the government in Kabul. That's their simple message, but, of course, the reality is far more complex.
The precursor group to ISIS, comprised mainly of disaffected Pakistani Taliban, first began making inroads into Afghanistan in 2014, announcing their arrival with the hanging of a dozen Taliban commanders in Nuristan Province.
But even before that, ISIS fighters had been travelling from Syria and Iraq to training camps just over the Pakistani border - something the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI, would have been fully aware of and, more than likely, acquiesced to.
Today, ISIS has a presence in at least seven Afghan provinces, most strongly in eastern Kunar Province. Their aim is to reconstruct a historical province known as Khorasan and to incorporate it into the newest caliphate.
A vast territory extending across north central and eastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and spreading southwards across Afghanistan, Khorasan was an important region in early Islam. Some Arab geographers have even suggested that its reach went as far as the modern borders with India. But then, ISIS' stated ambitions have always been rather grand.
Professionally filmed and edited beheadings, hangings and massacres are the group's brand logo. In one example, from spring 2015, which we show on our VIDEO Channel, they force a group of 10 elders, who had previously accommodated the Taliban in their districts and villages, to kneel on landmines. They are blown up, their torsos scattered across a wide expanse.
It's genuinely horrendous, but what's particularly unpleasant about this stunt (for that is what it is) is the fact that it is filmed with three separate cameras and then skilfully edited to music as the gore reaches its crescendo.
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Establishing Khorasan will require conquering territory in at least five modern states - an enormously appealing concept to many of the most extreme elements from those countries, who have grown frustrated with the limited ambitions of their own groups.
And that brings us to perhaps the greatest difference between the Taliban and ISIL: The Taliban's professed aims begin and end within the boundaries of Afghanistan.
"But ISIS is saying: 'We will attack America, we will attack everywhere. We want one Islamic country and that means the Islamic Caliphate."
To achieve their goal of an Islamic Caliphate in Afghanistan, ISIS targets very young children to shape them into 'Caliphate Cubs'. While the Taliban insist that young boys and girls spend years learning the Quran by heart, ISIS adopts a more direct and deliberate form of indoctrination - one involving guns and grenades.
Clearly determined to capture young minds from the outset, children as young as five are given practical lessons in how to fire pistols and sub-machine guns and how to throw grenades.
As their fighter-teacher explains in the video: "Islamic law tells us to give children all essential skills. We teach them, and we give them military training so they are prepared in mind and body so they are set on the right path and each generation will learn and teach in turn."
Ref.: Al Jazeera