The United States believes that the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State terror poses a significant threat to retreating American troops and Afghan evacuees.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Sunday’s “State of the Union” that the threat of ISIS in Afghanistan “is real. It’s acute. It is persistent. And it is something we’re focused on with every tool in our arsenal.”
Sullivan said American commanders on the ground “have a wide variety of capabilities they’re using to defend the airfield against a potential terrorist attack” and the military is working with the intelligence community to determine where a potential attack might originate.
“It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting, and we’ll do everything we can as long as we’re on the ground to keep that from happening, but we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously,” he said.
Two U.S. officials quoted in a Saturday report from NBC News told the outlet that U.S. forces are actively keeping track of threats the Sunni Islamist group poses to the airport in Kabul and those trying to reach it.
“We are executing an alternate path,” one defense official told the outlet, pointing out that U.S. forces are coordinating alternative ways to get people to the airport.
“This includes gathering smaller groups of people at specific locations and then moving them to the airport in intervals. The goal is to get them there safely and make it easier to get through the gate quickly with smaller groups of people,” the report stated.
Islamic State – Khorasan Province, known as ISIS-K, is a branch of the terror group that emerged after the Islamic State announced its spread to the region of Khorasan in 2015, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Khorasan is a region that historically included sections of present-day Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, according to the institute.
Do you expect a resurgence by the Islamic State group?
The fall of the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul Aug. 15 has given rise to concerns that the Taliban takeover will turn the country into a breeding ground for militant groups hostile to the U.S., including the Islamic State group.
“There have been reports already of Islamic State elements present in Afghanistan and if they get the opportunity to put down infrastructure and train then that will pose a threat to the west more widely,” former British intelligence chief Jonathan Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today on Friday, according to The Guardian.
“There’s also the psychological effect of the inspiration that some people will draw from the failure of Western power in Afghanistan and that may well create a certain amount of energy in the wider networks that are still in existence in Britain and across the West.
“So in practical terms, an increase in ungoverned space, but also in psychological terms this does mean an increase in threat over coming months and years.”
Speaking on Fox News, the outlet’s senior strategic analyst, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, agreed that Biden’s withdrawal puts the country under pressure in the short term as it faces threats from ISIS and pressure to withdraw due to the timeline set by the Biden administration.
The U.S. military under President Donald Trump all but destroyed the Islamic State group by 2019, but now with Biden in the Oval Office, the group is back.
“What’s happening here with ISIS,the estimates before the [Taliban] takeover was somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 ISIS fighters,” Keane said, adding that many of the ISIS-K fighters are former Taliban fighters who joined the Islamic State group after its 2014 takeover of swathes of Iraq.
But when the Taliban carried out their conquest of parts of Afghanistan, the militant group, in addition to Taliban fighters, also released ISIS and al-Qaida fighters from prison, Keane said. “So there’s hundreds of ISIS guys that are now back in the ranks.”
Keane stressed that it is necessary for U.S. troops to go out and bring stranded Americans to the airport.
“We certainly have the capability to do it. We need to find the will to do it,” he said.