The world was taken by surprise when the radical Taliban forces marched into Kabul only days after the sudden withdrawal of the American forces in Afghanistan.

Security experts were predicting Kabul would fall within 90 days and were not expecting the Afghan security forces, trained and equipped by the United States, to give up without a fight. The president also hurriedly left the country, leaving the country in chaos.

Security experts have expressed concerns other Islamist militant groups around the world would be inspired by the Taliban’s swift victory and Afghanistan would once again become a haven for extremist forces.

Islamist forces in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and even the Hamas leadership in Palestine, which traded rocket attacks with Israel earlier this year, have sent congratulatory messages to the Taliban.

The more radical and violent Islamic State forces, which have criticized the Taliban, were seen moving into Afghanistan and may take advantage of the chaos and uncertainty in the South Asian country. It could influence the extremist forces within the Taliban, turning Afghanistan into another Iraq and Syria.

Pakistan faced the biggest threat in the region as hundreds of Pakistani Taliban reportedly got out from Afghan jails and headed into the eastern part of the country close to Pakistan’s border. A rise in violence is feared.

Kabul’s fall was similar to the victory of communist forces in the Indo-China in the middle of the 1970s as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam fell like dominoes. There is danger Islamist extremism will also spread in the region.

But unlike in Vietnam, the United States left behind a huge cache of weapons and equipment in Afghanistan. Billions of dollars worth of aircraft — ground support planes and attack helicopters — military vehicles, high-powered guns with night vision goggles and communication equipment were given to Afghan security forces but were abandoned when they fled the country.

Some of these weapons and equipment could fall into the hands of more extremist forces, like the Islamic State, and could as well get into the possession of countries opposed to the United States.

In 1996 when the Taliban first rose to power in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda founder, the late Osama bin Laden, sought sanctuary in the country and directed from there global extremist operations, culminating in attacks in the United States in September 2001.

Al Qaeda’s violence spread across the world, including in the Philippines, where the small and more violent Abu Sayyaf Group operates.

Counter terrorism experts, like Sidney Jones and Rohan Gunaratna, have established the close links between al Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Its founder, the late Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, had spent some time with Afghan mujahideens fighting the Soviet forces in the late 1980s. He met some al Qaeda fighters, including bin Laden.

Before the Abu Sayyaf became more of a criminal organization, abducting foreign nationals for ransom and extorting money from businesses and ordinary people, Janjalani’s extremist group was attacking government forces and kidnapping and killing Christian missionaries, including Catholic priests in Sulu and Basilan.

Before the World Trade Center attack in 2001, al Qaeda planned a similar operation, Operation Bojinka, hijacking US airlines flying in East Asia and planting bombs.

A Philippine Airlines flight to Tokyo was bombed, killing a Japanese passenger, in a test mission for the Abu Sayyaf.

Al Qaeda also planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his second visit to Manila in 1995 but failed after an accidental fire at a Malate apartment exposed the plan.

Philippine police cooperated with US authorities in tracking down the foreign extremists behind the plan to kill the Pope and bombed US airlines in Asia, arresting in Pakistan one of the main suspects behind the first bomb attack at the World Trade Center in 1993.

Janjalani was killed in an encounter with government forces in 1998 but it did not end Abu Sayyaf’s terrorism in the south.
His successors continued attacks in Basilan, Sulu, and Zamboanga City and gained more prominence after the crossborder kidnapping of Western tourists and Malaysian resort workers from Sipadan in 2000.

A year later, the Abu Sayyaf took three Americans and local tourists from a resort in Palawan, beheading one of the Americans and sending it as a gift to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the Philippines’s independence day.

The Abu Sayyaf later pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after bin Laden was killed in a daring US raid at his hideout in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.

Local counter terrorism expert Rommel Banlaoi expressed deep concerns over a spillover of violence in the south, anticipating that other extremists would step up attacks, inspired by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.

But he ruled out another Marawi episode as various extremist forces are on the run from government forces, which have improved their capability to fight terrorism through training from the United States and modern equipment, like smart bombs, drones and other gadgets for technical intelligence gathering.

Although the national police has made firm assurances the situation is under control, the Abu Sayyaf is still capable of conducting bombings, kidnappings and other terroristic activities in the south.

The Philippines needs to be vigilant and thwart any Abu Sayyaf plan to sow violence and show it remains a force to reckon with.

The military has gained momentum in the fight against Muslim extremists — the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi; the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao; and remnants of the Maute group in Lanao del Sur.

It has added more troops on Jolo island alone, increasing the number of army infantry brigades from one to three and commando units to hunt down extremists’ encampment. Three army brigades are also facing the BIFF and the Maute groups.

A big factor helping the government was the support of former rebels belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the two parties signed a peace accord in 2014.

The larger MILF forces used to have links with Islamist extremist groups. Its late founder and leader, Salamat Hashim, spent many years living in exile in Pakistan and had also met with bin Laden and other extremist leaders.

Some MILF fighters had extensive training in guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fighting alongside mujahideens from other countries against the Soviets in the 1980s.

Even when the MILF began negotiating with the government, it continued to harbor Southeast Asian militants, like Jemaah Islamiyah, in its mountain camps near Butig town in Lanao del Sur.

As talks progressed, the MILF expelled these foreign militants, forcing many of them to seek sanctuary in areas controlled by the Abu Sayyaf Group, the BIFF, and smaller radical groups like Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP).

There are still a few Indonesians, Malaysians and a Singaporean hiding in Mindanao. Some Indonesians were behind five suicide bombings in the last four years in Basilan and Sulu.

Removing the MILF in the extremist equation does not guarantee there will be no more attacks in the south and in other parts of the country, including Metro Manila.

Banlaoi’s warning of a possible spillover of Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan should not be taken lightly as there are local Islamist militants operating in the country. Some are working with foreign extremists.

The military and police should step up their intelligence gathering operations and move swiftly against known extremist groups to disrupt their terroristic plans.

The Philippines must also cooperate with regional allies and with other countries to stop the Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF and other local extremists from carrying out bombings and kidnapping.

The Philippines must learn from its lessons in Marawi.