US designates ISIS Afghan affiliate a terror group

(ABC News) — The U.S. State Department today officially designated ISIS’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a terrorist group.

ISIL-Khorasan, as the U.S. government refers to the group using an alternate acronym for ISIS, formed in January 2015 by drawing together mostly disaffected ex-members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan who since have pledged their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to the State Department. Khorasan refers to a region in Afghanistan-Pakistan.

The designation posted online today says ISIS-K has been responsible for “suicide bombings, small arms attacks and kidnappings in eastern Afghanistan… and claimed responsibility for [the] May 2015 attacks on civilians in Karachi, Pakistan.” Those attacks included an assault on a bus that killed 40 people in Karachi.

Despite the bloodshed, the U.S. military still viewed ISIS-K as “operationally emergent” and did not see the group as having “operational capabilities” as recently as last August, as Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said at the time. However, Shoffner said the Afghan government, and therefore the U.S. military, was greatly concerned about ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan.

“We see their capabilities increasing somewhat, but not to the point where they can conduct operations that you’re seeing in Iraq and Syria,” Shoffner told reporters Aug. 13, 2015. “Although we do have the potential for them to evolve into something more dangerous, and we take that very seriously.”

In September, a counter-terrorism official told ABC News that the fledgling ISIS-K had “been fighting non-stop” with the Taliban and al Qaeda in the region. “Fighting each other makes our job easier,” the official said.

By December, however, it appeared ISIS was evolving as Shoffner feared. On Christmas Eve, ISIS-K released a video called “Khorasan: Graveyard of the Apostates” showing gun and bomb attacks and executions purportedly conducted by the group in several regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The designation of ISIS-K comes as another ISIS affiliate claimed credit for a deadly bombing in Indonesia, the latest example of the terror group’s growing global reach. In November U.S. officials told ABC News that ISIS had organized a specific cell in its hierarchy dedicated to external operations — a shift from the regional focus on Iraq and Syria the group had shown in years previous.

ABC News’ Cho Park contributed to this report.

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