On Monday, April 21st, reports surfaced that ISIS and the Taliban announced a Jihad against one another. The disagreement arose over a region in Afghanistan where some small fights have already broken out between the two groups. While Afghan officials have acknowledged the presence of ISIS in the country since January, recently there have been a series of attacks that have gained the attention of the Taliban. Most notably there was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that left 33 civilians dead and over 100 more wounded. While the Taliban has led many of its own attacks, it has never actively taken credit for the deaths of innocents and viewed this as an evil act by ISIS. This led the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to declare that the ISIS flag will never be raised on Afghan soil. Given ISIS’s rise to prominence in the media, it appears that this could be a dangerous conflict if direct fighting between the two groups begins.
But just how dangerous is ISIS compared to the Taliban? In the past months ISIS has dominated the news relative to other military organizations in the Middle East. Rarely does a week pass without a video surfacing of their acts of terror. Their public executions and threats have made them well known all across the world and have gained the attention of many governments. This even led to Obama proposing to congress what some people consider to be a loose declaration of war against the organization. Given the shear amount of publicity that they have received, some people would assume that they are becoming the dominant military cell in the region. However, the numbers tell a different story.
The Taliban and ISIS report statistics on their attacks that they take credit for having carried out. While both groups average around the same number of attacks per month (approximately 1100), the Taliban has been far more effective in theirs. On average, attacks by the Taliban result in the deaths of 1999 people per month, compared to 208 by ISIS. In addition, the Taliban has been far more effective in destroying enemy vehicles, at 485 per month compared to only 8 by ISIS. Most of these numbers are self-reported by the organizations themselves so the validity of the figures is questionable. However it does raise an interesting aspect as to how so much media attention has been focused on ISIS in recent months when the numbers say they are not the most dangerous group in the region.
So why exactly is ISIS feared by the general public? The relevance of ISIS in the media is largely based on the manner in which they have conducted their operation. They have openly declared these attacks in grandiose fashion and have chosen to post many of their execution videos for the public. At first, these were simply public executions meant to convey their lack of tolerance for any opposition, but the atrocities soon escalated. Some are even as horrific as showing two captives being forced to dig their own graves before being executed by an ISIS official. In this manner ISIS is using fear as its main weapon, and has embraced terrorism as a method of achieving their objectives.
Another potential reason for the fear that surrounds ISIS is their use of the “shock value” of their attacks. Throughout the late 20th century, terrorism went through several phases in order to maximize the reaction from the press. Initially, it was the hijacking of airlines and then switched car and suicide bombs. In each instance there was a strong initial reaction to the attacks, but as more occurred by the same method people became less interested or surprised by them, effectively numbing the general public to the terror happening. Attacks that would originally generate days of coverage in the media were reduced to only a brief discussion in the news. It is not to argue that the organizations were less effective in carrying out the attacks, but rather that they did not receive the amount of attention desired by the those performing them. ISIS has recognized this fact and has chosen to up the ante by introducing their own form of terrorism. From the beheadings to declaring their attacks beforehand, ISIS has chosen to make their organization as public as possible. And in a horrific manner it has worked to their success. They have been able to generate media attention that would not have been possible using conventional means. Even when the Taliban is still killing more people, ISIS remains at the front of media coverage and has been able to spread their ideology to everyone who will listen.
The Taliban on the other hand has continued to focus their attacks on occupying forces, going as far as to claim that their top priority “will be given to safeguard and protect the lives and properties of civilian people.” Even in the wake of their declaration that this year will be home to the “bloodiest series of attacks in the past decade”, they are still are making it well publicized that they have no intention of harming the citizens of Afghanistan. This is in sharp contrast to ISIS that has publically stated the death tolls of civilians in their attacks and it appears that they are proud of these figures.
No matter how the numbers depict the two groups, no one can argue with the effectiveness of the methods used by ISIS. The expansion that they have achieved over the past few months has led to their recruitment of many disillusioned Taliban members and others who now believe in their cause. It is clear that ISIS has embraced the role of a modern day terrorist group and has been using every means possible to their advantage in order to expand their role in the region.