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New ISIS Alliance Evolves Amid Obama’s Strategy Shift In Afghanistan

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The Islamic State is teaming up with the Taliban against the Afghan National Security Forces after President Barack Obama authorized new rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Taliban and ISIS have previously battled for territory in opium rich Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan and represents lucrative drug smuggling income. After months of low-level skirmishes and executions of competing commanders, the groups have reached a tacit cease-fire to concentrate on dislodging the U.S. backed Afghan forces from Nangarhar.

The cease-fire is working decidedly in ISIS’s favor. ISIS deployed three suicide bombers July 23 to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. The strike killed 80 people and injured 230. The attack remains one of the deadliest in Afghan history and represents a troubling evolution for ISIS in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has committed significant airpower and drone strikes against ISIS in Afghanistan, but they have been largely unsuccessful in degrading the capability of the group. After two years of unprecedented territorial Taliban gains and the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan, Obama authorized new rules of engagement (ROE) for U.S. forces there.

Despite Obama’s new ROE, the Afghan National Security forces have withdrawn from several strategically important bases and ceded hundreds of square miles to the Taliban. The Afghan Security Forces have also been unable to cope with ISIS’s exploitation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

ISIS’s new alliance with the Taliban could provide it increased breathing room to mount similar spectacular attacks in major cities like Kabul, which severely erode public confidence in the U.S. backed Afghan government. The Obama administration has committed itself to backing the democratically elected Afghan government, with the hope it can military defeat the Taliban and precipitate a U.S. withdrawal in the future.

ISIS routinely exploits the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which the Pakistani military has been unable and unwilling to properly police. Pakistan also continues to support elements of the Afghan Taliban, including groups like the Haqqani Network, which is responsible for hundreds of U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan.

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