Things you need to know about al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban

Everyone wants to throat-punch ISIS, right? Right!

But what is ISIS…really? And who attacked the World Trade Center? And what’s the deal with Syria?

Keeping track of terrorist groups can be confusing, so here’s the quick and dirty on three hard-hitting groups the U.S. is currently fighting:

1. Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden created al Qaeda, executed the 9/11 attacks, and was killed by U.S. Navy Seals on May 2, 2011.

Al Qaeda is a Sunni Islamic militant organization founded by Osama bin Laden circa 1988 and is responsible for the attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Originally organized to fight the Soviet Union during the Afghan War, al Qaeda continues to resist entities considered corrupt to its leaders, including differing Islamic interpretations and foreign (read: U.S.) occupation of their lands.

Al Qaeda operates under the belief that it is their duty to kill non-believers, including civilians.

After 9/11, a U.S.-led coalition launched an attack in Afghanistan to target al Qaeda, which had been operating under the protection of the Taliban government in the country. Operation Enduring Freedom successfully toppled the Taliban and dispersed al Qaeda throughout the region, but U.S. forces remain unable to fully eradicate the group.

Today, al Qaeda is still a significant threat across the Middle East and North Africa. Though forced to operate underground, the organization cooperates with other terrorist groups and continues to engage in attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

2. The Taliban

Taliban

Two Taliban religious police beating a woman in public because she dared to remove her burqa in public. (Hidden camera footage courtesy of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan)

Let’s go back to the Afghan War.

From 1979-1989, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Afghan fighters known as the mujahedeen resisted, finally forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw from the country.  In the aftermath, there was a power vacuum, with fighting among the mujahedeen until the Taliban was established in 1994.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan and imposed strict Islamic laws on the Afghan people. A Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement, the Taliban harbored al Qaeda operations, including bin Laden’s stronghold, which led to the U.S. invasion Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

During OEF, the Taliban lost governing control of Afghanistan and went into hiding along its borders and Pakistan, but it continues to wage its war against the West and the current Afghan government.

Today, largely funded by opium production, the Taliban fights to regain control of Afghanistan, engaging with military forces in-country and claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in the region.

3. ISIS

ISIS continues to defend territory in Iraq and Syria, but inspires or takes credit for global attacks, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France, and the May 2017 attacks in Manchester, England.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or just the Islamic State, is a Salafi jihadist Sunni Islamic militant group established in 1999 with the intention of establishing their God’s rule on earth and destroying those who threaten it.

They are known for being exceptionally brutal, utilizing publicity and the social media to broadcast mass executions, beheadings, and crucifixions.

They once pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, but separated from it in 2014 and concentrated their attention on Syria and Iraq.

In January 2014, ISIS captured the city of Raqqa, Syria. For the next six months, the group overtook major Iraqi cities like Mosul and Tikrit before self-declaring a caliphate, an Islamic State with authority over the global Muslim population.

In August 2014, President Barack Obama approved airstrikes against ISIS.

Today, the United States works with Syrian and Iraqi forces to purge ISIS control from Syria and Iraq.