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Trump officials are quietly negotiating with the Taliban — which is now ranked the world's deadliest terror group

Ellen Ioanes , Business Insider US
 Nov 21, 2019, 08:49 AM
(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
  • The US is still trying to negotiate with the Taliban, which was found to be the world's deadliest terror organisation for 2018, according to a report from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).
  • 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 (GTI) shows that the Taliban was responsible for nine of the 10 deadliest terror incidents in 2018, including the deadliest, which killed 466 people in Ghazi, Afghanistan in August 2018. It surpassed ISIS as the deadliest terror group in the world for the first time since 2014.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Officials in the Trump administration continue to attempt negotiations with the Taliban to broker a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, as that group becomes the most deadly in the world, according to data for the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

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 westerners, one American and one Australian, abducted from the American University of Afghanistan in 2016. The Taliban also stated 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 is part of an ongoing 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 is now the world's deadliest terror group, according to the IEP's Global Terror Index.

The Taliban has overtaken ISIS as the deadliest terror organisation in the world as of last year.

The Institute for Economics and Peace's annual Global Terror Index finds that the Taliban overtook ISIS as the deadliest terror group in the world in 2018, for the first time since ISIS's brutal rise in 2014.

In 2018, total deaths from terror incidents fell globally, but Afghanistan shouldered 46% of the 15,952 deaths from terror, with 7,379 fatalities from 1,443 incidents. The Taliban was, according to the GTI, responsible for 83 percent 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 terror attack, in the city of Ghazni in August, killing 466 people. While the group often attacks military and political targets, it also attacks civilians, to a much lesser extent.

ISIS's lethality decreased significantly in 2018, as the US-led coalition made significant progress in defeating ISIS's territorial caliphate.

While the ISIS caliphate, which covered a swath of land across Iraq and Syria the size of Great Britain, was declared officially defeated in March of 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 terror groups from 2014 through 2017.

Last year, the GTI reports, ISIS was responsible for 1,328 deaths around the world, a 69% decrease from 2017, and an 85% decrease from 2016. ISIS's deadliest attacks occurred in Syria, including one in Deir Ezzor, Syria, which involved 10 suicide bombers and four vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDS) and killed at least 51.

Although GTI counts the terror group's affiliate, the Islamic State Khorasan chapter (ISIS-K), as a separate terror 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 they've staged have 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 have 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 terror incidents happen in countries where conflict is ongoing.

"95% of deaths from terrorism occur in a conflict setting," he said.

"The intensity of terrorism dropped markedly," according to Killelea, but "we have an increase in the breadth of terrorism," and "it's still very real, still a major issue globally."

One surprising trend, Killelea said, was the increase in far-right terror, which has increased 320% over the past five years, the report finds. While deaths from far-right terror incidents, like the Christchurch shooting in March of 2019, make up a small percentage of all terror-related deaths - 26 people died in 2018 from far-right terror attacks - the incidents are on the rise and perpetrated almost exclusively by individuals not tied to any particular group.

"Far right terrorists are remarkably successful," Killelea said.

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