For four years, Daesh topped the Global Terrorism Index, compiled annually by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). However, when the 2019 report was released on Wednesday, the Taliban once again topped the list. While the report analyzes attacks and deaths in 2018 and Daesh wasn’t destroyed totally until early 2019, the group was so far in the decline that it fell from the top spot.
The report analyzed 163 countries, finding that Afghanistan was the country most impacted by terrorism last year. It supplanted Iraq, which had held that position since 2004. Daesh was declared totally defeated in the Mesopotamian country in late 2017, pushed out by an unlikely alliance of Iraqi militias, elite Iranian troops and US airstrikes.
Worldwide, 15,952 people died from terrorist attacks in 2018; that’s half what the total was four years ago, but the scope was wider than ever before as well, with at least one terrorism-related death occurring in 71 countries.
However, 46% of those deaths happened in Afghanistan alone, which saw 7,379 fatalities from 1,443 attacks, according to the report. The Taliban was judged responsible for 83% of those attacks, including nine of the 10 deadliest attacks around the world that year.
Deaths from Daesh attacks, by comparison, were 85% lower than their height in 2016. Last year, they killed 1,328 people, although the IEP did not record their Afghanistan franchise, Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), as the same organization. IS-K killed 1,060 people last year, nearly all of them in Afghanistan.
"The intensity of terrorism dropped markedly," Stephen Killelea, the founder of the IEP, told Business Insider, cautioning that now "we have an increase in the breadth of terrorism … it's still very real, still a major issue globally."
The Taliban was catapulted to political prominence by the collapse of central authority in the final years of the People’s Republic of Afghanistan, which it helped to destroy following the Soviet Red Army’s withdrawal in 1988-9. The Taliban and other Mujaheddin insurgent groups fighting communist forces received wide support from the United States and Pakistan, accumulating power until the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in Kabul and established the Islamic Emirate in 1996.
Taliban support for al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization staffed with former Mujaheddin fighters who plotted attacks against Western states and was allowed to operate training camps in Afghanistan, drew the ire of Washington following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, quickly overthrowing the Taliban government and beginning an insurgent war against the US-supported authorities that has raged until the present day.
A ceasefire seemed all but certain earlier this year, but US President Donald Trump pulled out amid Taliban terrorist attacks that killed a US soldier just prior to the summit. Trump said earlier this week that the recent prisoner exchange between US and Taliban forces could lead to “more good things on the peace front, like a ceasefire.”
A September report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that if efforts aren’t made to reintegrate former Taliban fighters into Afghan society, they are at serious risk of joining IS-K.
Terrorism Rises in the West
Wednesday’s report also highlights another worrisome trend: the rise of far-right terrorism in the West.
The report noted a 320% increase in deaths caused by far-right terror over the last five years. Killelea noted that while such incidents are few, they tend to be far deadlier, as well as carried out by individuals not tied to a particular group.
For example, there have been 11 far-right attacks in the West in the last 50 years that have killed more than 50 people, and the three deadliest politically motivated terrorist attacks during that time were all carried out by far-right extremists.
Earlier this year, reports by the US-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) both highlighted the meteoric rise of far-right groups as well as their membership logs. Likewise, the US military expanded its hunt this past March for service members who are also members of far-right groups, following repeated revelations of far-right rings within its ranks.