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ISIS and Taliban at war?

ISIS and Taliban at war?

As of April 20, 2015, it appears that ISIS and the Taliban have declared jihad against each other. These reports followed an interview with Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, the police chief in the Helmand province. Nabi Jan Mullahkhil claimed that the police department had received documents stating the intention of jihad between ISIS and the Taliban, Khaama Press reported. [1]


The above two images show: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [6] (Top) and Mullah Mohammed Omar [7] (Bottom).

It is no secret that the two groups do not get along well. In the past, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS) has been quoted as calling Mullah Mohammed Omar (the leader of the Taliban) “a fool and illiterate warlord.” In 2014, the Taliban stated that the group felt that ISIS was too extreme of a group while urging ISIS fighters to abide by the Islamic rule of law in its captured territory. [2] Obviously, when the Taliban declares a group too extreme, it is clear that the group is taking extreme to a new level.

But why the jihad? Is this pointed statement the cause of the jihad declared between the two Islamic fundamentalist groups? No, it appears that alternate motives are behind this. According to IndiaTimes, the driving motivation between this jihad is the opium production in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. [3] This province is the largest producer of opium in Afghanistan, and the two fundamentalist groups are apparently fighting over control of this opium. This is currently only speculative information by the reporters based on the location of the proposed war in the Helmand province.

Helmand Province

The figure above shows the location of the Helmand province in Afghanistan in the red outline. This is the contested territory. Photo taken from Google Maps.

Also according to Khaama Press, the Taliban’s fighters have been told to resist any advances in the province and to not let them occupy the territory.

According to the United Nations office of Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world. [4] One can see from this that it would be economically advantageous for either group to have control of this opium production for funding of the group. Previously, this area was under the Taliban’s control, but ISIS appears to have an interest in expansion in the area for this reason. This report also claims that 42% of the world’s opium comes from this province alone, which is a greater production than the entire country of Burma, the world’s second largest producer of opium.

There have been many jokes and comments posted on Twitter about this proposed war which were recounted on IndiaTimes. Twitter user AboveTopSecret posted, “#ISIS and #Taliban Announced #Jihad Against Each Other  #ATS get your tickets before sold-out” and user 1Penny4Thought posted “Apparently ISIS and the Taliban announced Jihad against each other. I say we let them bomb it out and then winner takes on US air drones.” These two tweets appear to be indicative of many of the popular responses to this topic circulating social media, representing public support for this jihad.

There has been no public mention from the United States for or against any intervention or participation in this conflict so far, so we are left to speculate on the outcome of this. As previously stated, the opinions on social media appear to support leaving the war alone while observing from the sidelines, but no official statement has been made by any government agency. This also begs the question: what will happen if the United States supports one side? If the United States provides support for both sides, one could draw a parallel between this situation and Operation Cyclone when the United States armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [5] These fighters then aided the Sunni groups in fighting off the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the US’s own arms were used against them in the war.

It will be interesting to see the results of this, both from the war directly and the US’s hypothetical involvement.

-William Carter


[1] Khaama Press, “ISIS, Taliban announced Jihad against each other,” Khaama Press, 20 4 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[2] G. POLLOWITZ, “The Taliban Warns ISIS of Being Too Extreme,” National Review, 13 July 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[3] K. Anand, “ISIS and Taliban Have Announced Jihad…On Each Other. We Wish Them Both The Best Of Luck!,” India Times, 21 April 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 April 2015].
[4] UNODC, “UNODC World Drug Report,” 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[5] R. D. B. Jr., “Operation Cyclone: How the United States Defeated the Soviet Union,” Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010.
[6] World Tribune, “ISIL’s Al Baghdadi flees Iraq for Syria as U.S. steps up air strikes,” World Tribune, 21 8 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].
[7] C. Hughes, “Qari Nasrullah vows feared Taliban commander Mullah Omar will return to rule Afghanistan,” Mirror, 4 10 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 4 2015].


  1. amiteichenbaum says:

    It definitely seems like everyone is more than happy for these two to turn their efforts against each other. I’ve seen a ton of posts saying similar things to those you referenced. I also liked how you added some speculation regarding the cause, because it takes it from the realm of chaos to something people can understand.

  2. jkempa3 says:

    This is loosely appears to be another civil war in the region, I say loosely because ISIS does recognizable own any land or belong to any established state. I do not think the US should intervene in the conflict between ISIS and the Taliban. Economically, the US does not do business dealing with opium. also, neither of these groups are our allies and therefore we have no obligation to help either side. I do feel that the situation should be monitored and if it appears one side or the other will greatly benefit in some way from the conflict, leading them to grow more powerful, that then and only then, should the US step in regarding this specific conflict.

  3. lalaninatl says:

    Opium as the motivation for the Jihad is probably a good speculation as it is a good source for money and any organization in order to survive needs money. The US is probably not interfering because it is not affecting us as much. A lot of people welcomed the news saying things like “May the best side win” and encouraging the fight. I think that right now the dispute is small and local, but it has potential to grow bigger.

  4. Travis says:

    I learned some thing about Opium that didn’t know. It’s interesting to think that Opium plays a role in the tensions between the Taliban and ISIS. I’m pretty sure at this point the United States is just serving as a spectator, waiting to see what the outcome of the situation will be. I doubt we get involve until things reach a point that we deem as being bad for the United States or its allies.

  5. coreilly says:

    When the Taliban says you’re extreme, that’s saying something. It’s also funny that they are fighting over control of opium production, however it does make sense. There is a lot of money in that business and if one side could fully take control of it, it would benefit them greatly. I dont think the US should get involved in this for now. It is not our fight. Let them fight it out for a little bit and see what happens. The US stepping into this conflict would be a mistake.

  6. ashumway3 says:

    It’s fascinating to see the alternate reason you present as to why the groups are fighting. As we saw in the writings of bin Laden, the actions of these extremist groups are often political more than they are religiously motivated. In order to keep up a military, warring factions need money, and lots of it. Even though it goes against their religion, both the Taliban and ISIS can’t argue that drugs make a lot of money, which they need. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium so it makes sense that both factions are fighting for control over the valuable resource.

  7. zhu64 says:

    I don’t believe US will get involved in this war unless the taliban are loosing badly. ISIS is seen as a bigger threat to the United States than Taliban. so, I would not be surprised to see US airstrikes if ISIS is gaining an upper hand in the region. ISIS could become a lot more dangerous if they get their hands on the opium money and I am sure the US will do every to avoid that situation.

    • jjacob7 says:

      I agree, while the US and the Taliban might be on the same side (against ISIS), the US will want nothing to do with the Taliban if we’ve learned our lesson. This war against ISIS is already putting us in tacit cooperation with Assad in Syria and with Iran, but those are still ostensibly states at least (Syria less so). ISIS might be uniting actors in the region against them, but that doesn’t mean these actors have to form a coalition.

  8. mlucchi says:

    I did not know about the Opium trade. With that in mind, the motivations of some of these groups start to make sense. In order to continue, these groups need funding. While some groups have oil, it looks like these two want control of Opium. Terrorism and drugs are two big reasons for the US to not get involved though. The modern administrations have a strict policy of not supporting terrorist organizations.

  9. khospedales3 says:

    Interesting that this is referred to as a declaration of jihad. Sure, jihad is armed struggle, but specifically in the context of the community of Muslims fighting against those who threaten the integrity of their societies. I’m sure both Taliban fighters and ISIS fighters would call themselves Muslims, and I’d hardly attach and religious significance to a battle over opium lands. It seems this highlights how the various sects and interpretations of Islam can make it quite unclear what it means to truly be a Muslim for many who get caught up in all this conflict.

  10. lmoghimi3 says:

    I agree with the other posts. I do not think the US will get involved with this fight. Right now we have no interest in helping either side and I do not think anyone in the US really wants to get involved in another war. Hopefully things will not escalate to where there needs to be outside involvement.

  11. mdsmith910 says:

    I really don’t think the US will get involved with this particular fight because both sides are corrupt. However, I believe that if ISIS gets a hold of this territory, it could lead to a longer existence for the group.. which is really bad. So go Taliban???

    • kimpgt says:

      I completely agree! I am not sure which I support more- it’s more about who is the lesser evil, like we discussed in class. I need to do more research on this but this was a very interesting post! religion does have a huge impact and you would think something so pious would bring people together, not tear them apart.

  12. trevormcelhenny says:

    It will definitely be interesting to see how this one plays out. I think it is also interesting how the Taliban continues to change its stance on opium production, considering Mullah Mohammed Omar declared growing opium poppies un-Islamic back in 2000, and the Taliban continued to suppress the growing of poppies during their time in power. While it could be argued that this was just a means to appease the UN and also allow for huge personal monetary gains of those in the opium trade due to the price of opium skyrocketing during this period, opium, no doubt, continues to fund terrorist activity in the region. I would also surmise that those terrorists involved in the illicit opium trade and heroin production see their activities not only as a means to generate income, but also as another form of terrorism as the vast majority of heroin ends up on the streets of Europe and the US.

  13. jyount6 says:

    Wouldn’t that be exciting to sit back and watch these two groups just exhaust each other’s manpower and resources? Then when they whittle each other down we can just swoop in and clean up what’s left. I don’t realistically see them wiping the other out, they would probably reconcile their differences at that point, but it’s fun to imagine.

  14. jackjenkins2015 says:

    I hoper that the US will kind of let this play out and see what will happen. I’m sure at some point we will intervene, because that is our nature, to protect the civilians and try to establish order if everything goes horribly. It is interesting that two religious jihadi groups are desiring opium for money, it seems to be going largely against what they preach. Then again, a lot of what they do doesn’t match what they say. Thanks for the post! Very interesting.

  15. missypittard says:

    When you have two groups who subscribe to such extremist ideology, conflict in the region is bound to erupt. There is little the Great Powers can do to prevent these groups from battling it out, and would be a mistake to intervene. This region has only proven time and time again that they cannot coincide peacefully with the rest of the world, and I almost wonder if it’s time to lock the region in a room together to let them sort things out. The world has done everything it can to try and support the region towards order. There is some good coming from this, as it keeps both groups from antagonizing the Afgan government and US coalition troops.

  16. nsumi3 says:

    I really hope that the US does not get involved, especially considering we could not rid Afghanistan of the Taliban in the first place and are finally nearing the absolute end of our ridiculous occupation. The taliban has a dominant hold over the monetary resources of opium, and money all too often leads to victory, yet I don’t think anyone can predict what the aftermath of the struggle will look like.

  17. emartin36 says:

    At first, it seems incredibly surprising that two groups who one might think share similar interests would declare war one one another, but it seems like it could be a regional issue. However, I think that it is very important for other powers and governments to stay out of this conflict, because any intervention would mean support for one of these terrorist organizations. The US especially needs to maintain disapproval of both groups.

  18. corypope6 says:

    This seems to be the classic economic motivation that is justified by a religious claim. It has happened throughout history, from the Crusades to the Age of Exploration, religion has been the mask of purely economic goals. The same seems to be true in this case. These two groups both want control over the opium supply, and they see religious jihad as a way to justify this claim. It is hard to say how this will turn out, seeing as how the Crusades turned out poorly for the Crusaders and the Age of Exploration turned out poorly for the Native Americans, but only time will tell, especially if the United States does not get involved.

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