HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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ISIS and the Taliban: A modern day jihad

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.

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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. blog 2

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.

-Chris Ryan




  1. amiteichenbaum says:

    It’s really interesting to see how the Taliban states that “their top priority ‘will be given to safeguard and protect the lives and properties of civilian people.'”, especially considering that a UN report found that more than two-thirds of the 2,777 civilians killed last year in Afghanistan were the victims of insurgents (the Taliban). They’ve also taken to recently openly massacring civilians that are relatives of policemen or drinking alcohol. The Taliban has actually recently done beheadings, which makes me think that there is an ulterior motive in this declaration of Jihad against ISIS.

  2. jkempa3 says:

    This is an interesting post. The statistics, even if they are inaccurate, do paint a vivid image of the difference in physical damage done by both groups. Fear is a powerful weapon though, fear to resist, leading to the join or die scenario seems to have been used to great effect by ISIS. I hope that the opposition forces that surround the region ISIS has claimed as their home turf can ban together despite their own differences and defeat the threat. As Sun Zhu wrote in the Art of War, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  3. lalaninatl says:

    I definitely agree that ISIS has and is gaining a lot more media attention and this seems to be a good way to increase their numbers. However, what ‘s most interesting is that the Taliban seems to be doing more damage. This might be because the purpose of ISIS and the Taliban are different. ISIS is just trying to let people know that they hold power over all “true” Muslims and they are able to convey this message to everyone by blowing up all their occurrences and instilling fear into everyone.

  4. Travis says:

    I liked the compare and contrast of ISIS and the Taliban. It;s interesting to see how each has different methods and how the different methods bring forth different response from the public. Taliban seems to be about strictly showing their ability of brute force. ISIS uses strategic decisions in order to get their message across.

  5. coreilly says:

    It is interesting to see the differences between the Taliban and ISIS. I didn’t know the Taliban did that much more damage than ISIS. It makes sense though, it seems like a larger and more organized group. I do like how you brought up why ISIS is more popular right now. It’s true that they have gone completely public with their acts, making it seem like they are a larger, more damaging force than they really are. That strategy is working for them very well. We will see how this jihad will work in the end, but for now I say let them fight each other. Not our problem (for now at least).

  6. ashumway3 says:

    It’s almost comical that ISIS is so extreme that both al Queda and the Taliban (who have been the symbols for terrorism and radical Islam) have publicly disavowed them for being too extreme. It seems that ISIS has made so many enemies and very few friends. Because of this, I do not think that they will last long. Now that even the Taliban is fighting against them, it’s clear that they do not have the military strength to fight off the entire world. It will definitely be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years, though I hope it ends as soon as possible.

  7. zhu64 says:

    It appears that the Taliban is the lesser of the two evils. Hopefully the two groups attacks and weaken each other so that the governments of middle east countries can finally destroy both. These terrorist groups has caused nothing but war and destruction everywhere in the middle east. If these different groups starting fighting each other it will only speed up their own destruction.

  8. mlucchi says:

    We always see ISIS atrocities in the news, but we rarely see the numbers relative to everything else. It’s interesting that the Taliban is so much more effective but gets less attention. Perhaps their leaders don’t crave the attention and validation that ISIS does. They have different goals it seems, either being publicity, or actual military advancement and though horrific, it will be interesting to see how these conflicting ideals clash.

  9. vlobo3 says:

    This is a really interesting post. I really like that you brought in the statistics. I guess I really haven’t thought about the actual numbers of deaths, but have rather been thinking about the brutality that ISIS is continually portraying to the world (obviously, what they’re doing is clearly working). I’m kind of terrified to see how this all pans out, but it will definitely be interesting.

  10. jjacob7 says:

    Thanks for this post. It really brought to attention some trends that have been overlooked. Speaking for myself, I thought that the Taliban had been more marginalized in recent years given the ubiquitous presence of troops in Afghanistan, American or otherwise. It’s disheartening to know that our efforts have been less consequential than I thought and that the Taliban is still killing thousands of people. One then wonders if there is a solution to these kinds of problems, or if, as EU Ambassador David O’Sullivan said in his visit to Tech on Wednesday, the most effective response to civil wars is often to let them play themselves out.

  11. trevormcelhenny says:

    I found it really interesting to see the statistics for these two groups. With all the media attention that ISIS generates, it was surprising to see how much less “damage” they are doing in Afghanistan compared to the Taliban (which barely even generate headlines these days). Like others have said, hopefully these two organizations will significantly weaken each other in their conflicts.

  12. khospedales3 says:

    Funny how the media will always play right into their hands. Heinous acts are heinous acts but leveraging the media in order to ensure these acts are visible by the public and instill fear into the public truly defines terrorism, and ISIS seems to have a handle on that more than anything else.

    It reminds me of media tendencies here in our own country, where criminals and killers will get hours upon hours of media coverage and even documentaries and analyses into their lives, as though they’re celebrities, while the victims of their terrible acts slip away relatively unnoticed.

  13. lmoghimi3 says:

    The compare/contrast with ISIS and the Taliban was interesting. I always just thought of both groups as basically the same thing. It is interesting to see how the tactics differ in the different goals and how these tactics have been playing out for them.

  14. mdsmith910 says:

    It’s interesting how ISIS has started to “up the ante” and change according to the media coverage. It makes me wonder if the media stopped acknowledging ISIS for the most part what would happen? Or on the other hand, if the media spends more time focusing on ISIS if their intense executions will plateau.

    • nsumi3 says:

      Interesting. Maybe the question is not whether or not the media should report on ISIS attaks, but what the focus of that coverage should be. So far, they seem to be pretty reactionary and letting ISIS dictate what is covered and what is not. Instead of focusing totally on the brutality of the group, their victims and the survivors’ could lend an important voice to the story that is maybe not covered to its full potential.

  15. jackjenkins2015 says:

    Thanks for the post. I think you offer a good point about our numbing to certain terrorist attacks. I think the world has kind of “forgotten” about the Taliban, and is definitely focused on ISIS. Hopefully, this conflict between the two of them will redirect their focus on each other and not on innocent civilians and maybe it will help bring about an end to the fighting sooner.

  16. kimpgt says:

    Interesting post! I agree that media coverage of bombings may not be as detailed our long as before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Any act of terrorism should be acknowledged and attempted to be stopped. I think it’s horrible how acts of terrorism is being increased and more inhumane because certain groups want to be more known and popular. I agree that most of the power these regimes get come from fear, but unless someone can stop them, people will have to live in fear for their lives.

  17. missypittard says:

    We learned last class that ISIS has been 15 years, yet it wasn’t until recently that they had been recognized internationally as a military organization. The difference in tactics between the two groups boils down to what the supposed goals of their acts are. The Taliban appears to be much more effective in the goal that they and ISIS both champion, creating the united Muslim caliphate, but ISIS has better leveraged technology to their advantage. While the Taliban racks up a higher body count, the number of people influenced and researching ISIS is much higher. I am curious how long they can keep up their terror, especially in such a grandiose fashion, now that nearly every international organization has condemned the militant group.

  18. emartin36 says:

    ISIS seems to be taking a very modern approach to their publicity. If you really think about it, the “best” way to instill fear in others is to be as graphic and detailed as possible and to demonstrate your actions to as many people as possible. I think it is possible that the Taliban is simply threatened by another terrorist organization encroaching on their turf, and ISIS’s use of social media could very well be getting under the Taliban’s skin.

  19. corypope6 says:

    I think it is very interesting that you compared and contrasted the casualty rate per month of ISIS and the Taliban. I had no idea that the Taliban were responsible for far more deaths than ISIS. I guess ISIS is just more up front about their tactics and are far more likely to post videos and take responsibility for their heinous acts. ISIS wants to make their involvement in terrorist attacks an openly public matter, and that is part of why they have gained so much fear worldwide.

  20. jenglish7 says:

    For me, the infographic you provided really underscored the amount of amplification the media provides. Of course, this doesn’t really come as a huge shock. If anything I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t something that the media would blow out of proportion in order to garner more viewership. It’s unfortunate that the media focus being placed on ISIS only serves to make then stronger, as they now have the leverage of being in the spotlight.

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