USIP report warns of rising Daesh threat in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — A report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released on Tuesday reveals an increased threat from ISIS-K with broader capabilities than before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Senior Study Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan assessed that ISIS-K now “presents a rising threat with reach beyond the immediate region, greater than during the pre-withdrawal period.”

The report criticized the current underestimation of counterterrorism needs, emphasizing that ignoring the threat can jeopardize broader strategic objectives.

“Rather than considering counterterrorism as an unwelcome distraction from strategic competition, policymakers could recalibrate their focus on counterterrorism to mitigate threats and shield the strategic competition agenda,” the report suggests.

Highlighting the potential consequences of neglecting the terrorist threat, the report pointed out, “If terrorists succeeded in making those intentions a reality, it would not only result in the tragic loss of lives but also have significant adverse effects on America’s strategic competition agenda.” This scenario underscores the critical balance between counterterrorism and strategic priorities, particularly in relation to the intensifying rivalry with China and Russia.

The report also outlines the severe implications of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. soil or against its interests. “A mass-casualty attack would exert significant pressure on policymakers to respond assertively, which would divert resources, leadership attention, and political capital from the current focus on strategic competition,” it states. This diversion could undermine efforts to maintain a balanced approach towards global strategic challenges.

Reflecting on the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, the report notes that failed counterterrorism efforts could damage U.S. credibility. “Amid the Afghanistan withdrawal, Washington assured allies and partners that the United States would retain the capability to mitigate terrorist threats from Afghanistan following the military pullout,” the report recalls. A failure to prevent such attacks could significantly tarnish America’s international reputation and strategic alliances.

The report warns of the broader regional implications of unchecked terrorist activities in Afghanistan, particularly concerning India. “Terrorist attacks from Afghanistan and Pakistan against a critical partner such as India could spark dangerous regional crises… Such a crisis would also significantly distract India from focusing on the challenge presented by China,” the report explains.

The USIP emphasizes the need for a strategic recalibration to ensure that counterterrorism efforts are not sidelined but are integrated effectively with broader U.S. strategic goals. “Given these stakes, the United States could consider recalibrating the focus on counterterrorism to safeguard the strategic competition agenda,” the report recommends. This approach would involve preventive investments in counterterrorism to enable a sustained focus on strategic competition.

The report concludes that addressing the rising terrorism threats from Afghanistan and Pakistan is crucial for maintaining U.S. security and strategic interests. The proposed strategies aim to balance robust counterterrorism measures with the broader objectives of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the context of strategic competition with major global powers.