The Taliban Approach to Counterterrorism

STRIVE Afghanistan Practitioner Summary

Credit: Str/Xinhua/Alamy Live News Stock Photo - Alamy

Credit: Str/Xinhua/Alamy Live News Stock Photo - Alamy

Recent global developments have seen an increasing interest in non-Western responses to terrorism. Over the past two years, the STRIVE Afghanistan team has invested considerable energy in developing a deep understanding of the Taliban’s approach to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

After retaking power in August 2021, the Taliban’s initial approach to dealing with insurgencies appeared to rest upon brutally repressing any perceived threats. However, under closer inspection, this approach also includes some more diverse elements.

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The regime has, for example, sought to approach Shi’a and Salafi ulema to defuse tensions.

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The Taliban’s counterinsurgency has been directed at several groups.

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However, our team’s main focus has been on the Taliban’s efforts against the most capable of these actors, the Islamic State.

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How the Taliban are Meeting the IS Threat on Afghanistan’s Campuses

The Taliban’s Evolving Strategy

The extreme and brutal repression initially enacted by the Taliban to combat the Islamic State was not necessarily devoid of an inner logic. The Taliban’s tactics and understanding of their impact can be seen to adhere to the following theories of change.

However, the Taliban came to accept that in most circumstances, extreme repression was ineffective or even counterproductive, given the potential risk of collateral damage that could drive individuals into the ranks of the insurgents. This led the regime to employ violence that was specifically targeted against the insurgents.

As the Taliban managed to get a grip on running the Afghan state, they also developed and implemented tactics to choke off IS-K’s funding and logistics.

Alongside these coercive measures, the Taliban also experimented with reconciliation and reintegration schemes for active insurgents. Although successful in some areas, these efforts were ultimately discontinued. Nevertheless, they demonstrate the variety of approaches the Taliban has employed.

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  • Funded by the European Union

    The research on which this summary is based was funded by the European Union. The contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. The European Union holds full copyright for the text of this summary.

Related project

Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism (STRIVE) Afghanistan

This EU-funded programme (2019–2024) focused on reducing the vulnerability of at-risk populations in Afghanistan to recruitment into violent extremist groups.