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AFGHANISTAN: Islamic State attack against Taliban in Nangarhar opportunistic due to ceasefire and does not suggest shift in tactics

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on 16 June at an Eid al-Fitr celebration in the Rodat district of the eastern Nangarhar Province, which killed at least 35 people. The event was attended by civilians but also by members of the Taliban and local officials and security forces observing their respective ceasefires.

The Taliban’s decision to abstain from fighting from 15-17 June reflected its political ambitions as it seeks to portray itself as a viable alternative government. By contrast IS’s primary goal is to build support and gain recruits by appealing to jihadist sympathisers, particularly in Nangarhar where it has established a stronghold. It therefore favours less discriminate attacks, and this explains its willingness to target a civilian gathering in this instance. Indeed, the Taliban rapidly denied responsibility for the blast to avoid being seen as targeting civilians.

IS will also have targeted this celebration in an effort to highlight the Taliban’s fraternisation, albeit temporary, with government officials. IS outright rejects any such engagement and will have hoped that drawing attention to this difference would help it win defections from hardline Taliban members who oppose accommodating Kabul. In addition, it likely viewed this as an opportunity to retaliate against Taliban and government security forces, both of which have fought the group for influence in its eastern stronghold areas.

The attack does not however suggest a change of tactics and was instead chiefly opportunistic, since the ceasefire provided a rare opportunity to strike an assembly of civilians, Taliban members and government interests simultaneously. While further isolated clashes with the Taliban are therefore likely over the coming months, IS will continue to priorities attacking government and security forces interests, as well as religious minorities, particularly Shias. The group’s ability to operate will remain highest in Nangarhar, ensuring a persistent elevated threat to the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The IS threat will also remain high in Kabul, given its successful mass casualty attacks there in recent months, which will have helped it further develop its presence and capabilities in the capital.

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