- - Monday, August 19, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The “JV team” is back — if it ever went away. More than five years ago after President Barack Obama dismissed ISIS as mere junior varsity jihadists, the murderous Islamist group continues to spread terror and misery. Over the weekend, some 63 Afghans were slaughtered at a wedding in Kabul, and more than 100 were injured. According to news reports, a suicide bomber entered a packed wedding hall where hundreds of working class Afghans were dancing and celebrating merrily. Moments later dozens of them were murdered.

ISIS claimed what some in the media continue to call “credit” for the attack. It’s more like they took the blame. Using the messaging app Telegram, ISIS crowed that one of its “soldiers” had slaughtered “infidels” in a largely Shia section of western Kabul. (ISIS is militantly Sunni and slaughters Shia Muslims with impunity.)

A few years ago, ISIS controlled a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, a self-styled “caliphate” where terror and medieval Islamist law ruled. Over a brief period, they were largely routed, and the caliphate has mostly evaporated. That’s all to the good. But ISIS manifestly continues to be deadly. It has now embraced a so-called franchise model, whereby local offshoots engage in mayhem and murder. It’s not just Afghanistan. ISIS affiliates have also in the last year launched attacks in France, Indonesia, Pakistan, Canada, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Russia and elsewhere.

It’s undoubtedly salutary that the physical caliphate — a base from which to launch attacks — has been largely destroyed (though a recent report from the journalist Josh Rogin suggests that ISIS is in the process of establishing a new camp in northeastern Syria.) But the struggle plainly continues.

“With ISIS franchise groups and affiliates across the globe, there is no shortage of contenders to supplant ISIS as the world’s most dangerous terrorist group,” read a chilling whitepaper from the RAND Corporation’s Conor P. Clarke last year. He pointed to an ISIS franchise in Libya as a particularly chilling example.



“In many ways, Libya may have the potential to be the most dangerous haven for the group in the near future,” Mr. Clarke wrote. “The territory is awash in weapons, there is no recognized government to speak of, no sovereign authority, and it serves as a focal point and crossroads for jihadists of all stripes, located a mere 200 kilometers across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe the [Libyan] ISIS affiliate has been tied to two major external operations, successfully tallying attacks on European soil, including the Berlin Christmas market attack in late 2016 and the deadly Manchester concert bombing in 2017. The group has also launched devastating regional attacks.”

What’s more, should the Taliban take at least partial power in a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan, as has been suggested in recent days, there are profound worries that ISIS could once again gain a physical foothold in that troubled country from which to launch attacks. Writing in these pages, Guy Taylor reported this week that the wedding attack “raises questions over fate of U.S.-Taliban talks.” The Taliban once gladly hosted al Qaeda within its borders, after all. It’s not unreasonable to fear that a newly legitimized Taliban will also happily host ISIS fighters. That, along with ISIS’ Libyan franchise, could endanger all of us.

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