- Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS
- The US is still trying to negotiate with the Taliban, which a new report from the Institute for Economics and Peace found to be the world’s deadliest terrorist organization in 2018.
- The US envoy for the Afghanistan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, facilitated a prisoner swap between the US-backed Afghan government and the Taliban on Tuesday, in which the Afghan government released three Taliban leaders in exchange for two Western hostages and 10 members of the Afghan security forces.
- The IEP’s Global Terror Index found that the Taliban was responsible for nine of the 10 deadliest terrorist incidents in 2018, including the deadliest, which killed 466 people in Ghazi, Afghanistan, in August of that year. It surpassed the Islamic State as the deadliest terrorist group in the world for the first time since 2014.
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As officials in the Trump administration continue to attempt negotiations with the Taliban to broker a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report from the Institute for Economics and Peace has rated the terrorist group as the deadliest in the world.
Official peace talks between the US and the Taliban were declared “dead” in September after a Taliban bombing in Kabul killed a US soldier and scuttled President Donald Trump’s attempt to bring Taliban officials to Camp David. But Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the Afghanistan peace talks, has been working to restart the talks since then.
On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports, the US-backed Afghan government freed three senior Taliban officials with ties to the deadly Haqqani network, in exchange for the release of two Western hostages, one American and one Australian, who were abducted from the American University of Afghanistan in 2016. The Taliban also said it would hand over 10 members of the Afghan security forces.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralded the move as “a good step” but cautioned “it’s only that,” indicating that the prisoner swap was part of a process to get direct talks between the US and the Taliban back on track, this time including the official Afghan government in Kabul, which the Taliban has referred to as a “puppet” government.
The three Taliban leaders released are part of the Haqqani network, the most ruthless and bloodthirsty faction of what IEP’s Global Terror Index now considers the world’s deadliest terror group.
The Taliban overtook the Islamic State last year as the deadliest terrorist organization in the world.
The Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual Global Terror Index found that the Taliban in 2018 overtook the Islamic State as the deadliest terrorist group for the first time since ISIS’ brutal rise in 2014.
In 2018, total deaths from terrorist incidents fell globally, but Afghanistan shouldered 46% of the 15,952 such deaths, with 7,379 fatalities from 1,443 incidents, according to IEP. The Taliban was, according to the GTI, responsible for 83% of those deaths and for nine of the 10 deadliest terrorist attacks in the world.
The Taliban has also increased its control over land in Afghanistan; the report estimates that the Taliban controls approximately 17% of Afghanistan’s 229 districts.
The Taliban perpetrated 2018’s deadliest terrorist attack, in the Afghan city of Ghazni in August, killing 466 people. While the group often attacks military and political targets, it also attacks civilians.
ISIS’ lethality decreased significantly in 2018, as the US-led coalition made significant progress in retaking control of its territory.
While ISIS‘ self-declared caliphate, which covered a swath of land across Iraq and Syria the size of Great Britain, was declared officially defeated in March 2019, it had lost significant territory – as well as subjects, fighters, and sources of income – by 2018.
Its swift and brutal rise in 2014 put ISIS at the top of the GTI’s list of deadliest terrorist groups from 2014 through 2017.
Last year, the GTI found, ISIS was responsible for 1,328 deaths around the world, a 69% decrease from 2017 and an 85% decrease from 2016. ISIS’ deadliest attacks occurred in Syria, including one in Deir Ezzor, which involved 10 suicide bombers and four vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and killed at least 51.
Though GTI counts the terrorist group’s Islamic State Khorasan affiliate, known as ISIS-K, as a separate enterprise, the group has pledged its allegiance to the global ISIS enterprise, which has moved fighters to Afghanistan to stage attacks from there.
According to GTI, ISIS-K’s fighting force has declined to about 600 to 800 from a peak of about 3,000 to 4,000 in 2016. The number of attacks it has staged has decreased as well – but they’ve become deadlier, as 2018 marked the highest number of deaths from ISIS-K attacks since the group’s formation in 2014.
Last year, ISIS-K was responsible for 1,060 deaths – most of them in Afghanistan.
Overall, deaths from terrorism are down globally.
As of 2018, deaths from terrorism had fallen 53% from their peak in 2014, according to the GTI. That year, 33,555 people were killed in terrorist attacks.
While the decrease is impressive, it’s essential to remember that terrorism thrives in places of conflict; Stephen Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, stressed to Insider that 99% of all terrorist incidents happened in countries with ongoing conflict.
“Ninety-five percent of deaths from terrorism occur in a conflict setting,” he said.
“The intensity of terrorism dropped markedly,” Killelea said, adding that “we have an increase in the breadth of terrorism” and that “it’s still very real, still a major issue globally.”
One notable trend, Killelea said, was the increase in far-right terror, which the report found had increased 320% over the past five years. While deaths from far-right terrorist incidents, like the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooting in March 2019, make up a small percentage of all terrorism-related deaths – 26 people died in 2018 from far-right terrorist attacks – the incidents are on the rise and perpetrated almost exclusively by individuals not tied to a particular group.
“Far-right terrorists are remarkably successful,” Killelea said.