An Afghanistan-based division of the Islamic State will be able to attack US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months, a senior US general told a Senate committee.
General Michael Kurilla, head of the US Central Command, told Congress that “at least hundreds of thousands” of US citizens could be vulnerable to an attack by ISIS-K and that the group’s “ultimate goal is to attack the American homeland.”
ISIS-K – the Islamic State in Khurasan – is an ISIS affiliate based in Afghanistan and an avowed enemy of both the Taliban and the United States.
The group has claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport attack during the August 2021 US evacuation, which killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US soldiers. It continued to carry out attacks throughout 2022, including on mosques and schools.
Kurilla’s comments were made during a speech on Thursday to the Senate Armed Forces Committee requesting funds for fiscal year 2024.
General Michael Kurilla, head of the US Central Command, told Congress that ISIS-K could target US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months.
ISIS-K is an ISIS-affiliated company in Afghanistan. An ISIS-K leader identified as Abu Haidar is depicted with his seven fighters in an undated image. The men were all killed in a clash with Afghan forces in Nangarhar province, the heartland of ISIS-K.
“My commanding officer estimates that in less than six months they can conduct a remote operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad, without any warning,” Kurilla said during this week’s speech.
“ISIS-Khorasan is encouraged and is seeking to expand its ranks and enable and direct attacks in the region and beyond – with the ultimate goal of attacking the American homeland,” he added.
He was then asked about the likelihood of an attack on American soil.
“It would be harder for them to do that against the American homeland,” he said.
“If you compare six months against Europe or Asia, what would be the timeline against the homeland?” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton asked him.
“I think it’s hard to put a timeline on that,” Kurilla said. “I think it’s more likely abroad than at home.”
When asked how many US citizens (including troops, tourists and people working abroad) are in regions vulnerable to attack, he agreed it would be “hundreds of thousands at least.”
The commander also confirmed to the committee that there was a need for munitions that can hit “hard and deeply buried” ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan.
Similar assessments have recently been made by other US officials.
“It’s only a matter of time before they have the ability and intent to attack the West,” Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said at a hearing last week.
In January, Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described ISIS-K as the “threatening actor I am most concerned about.”
“We see worrying indications of ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan and its ambition that could extend beyond that immediate area,” she said.
Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of an explosion near the Interior Ministry in Kabul, on January 1, 2023
ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the August 2021 Kabul airport bombing that killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 members of the US military
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton asked during Thursday’s speech when the group was likely to launch an attack on US soil
ISIS-K was founded in January 2015 by disillusioned Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan. Khurasan refers to the historical name of the area between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is one of six or seven regional offshoots of the Islamic State – the K stands for the Khorasan region, which historically includes parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
ISIS-K was founded in 2015 as a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban and its original leaders came from Pakistan.
It was quickly recognized by the leaders of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and declared a terrorist organization by the State Department in January 2016.
The strongholds are located in eastern Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan in Nangarhar province, and in northern Afghanistan.
In 2018, the group was weakened in northern Afghanistan, and severely beaten back in the east in 2019. But in 2020, they regrouped and launched a series of devastating terror attacks.
The group previously fought against the Western-backed government that fell in August 2021.
It is unclear how much control ISIS exercises over ISIS-K, but the main group does claim attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The stated goal is to impose an Islamic caliphate in the region.
In Afghanistan, ISIS-K has emerged as the main threat to the Taliban’s efforts to bring peace to the country.
ISIS-K is widely regarded as an international problem, having attacked foreign targets, both in the Kabul airport bombings and in separate attacks on Chinese civilians in Afghanistan.
Last year, the State Department offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the capture of ISIS-K leader, 28-year-old Sanaullah Ghafari, and for helping find those behind the airport attack.
According to the State Department, Ghafari was appointed in June 2020 by the core leadership of the Islamic State in the Middle East as the head of its Khorasan affiliate.
It said Ghafari was responsible for approving all ISIS-K operations across Afghanistan and arranging funding to conduct operations.
Some reports suggest he was born in Iraq – based on his nickname al-Muhajir or “the Migrant” – but US government documents state that his birthplace is Afghanistan.
He is said to have been a mid-level commander in the Taliban-allied Haqqani network before joining the Islamic State-affiliated party.
The State Department’s rewards for justice department announced last February that it was offering a $10 million reward for information leading to ISIS-K chief Sanaullah Ghafari
Ghafari is believed to be signing on for all ISIS-K attacks in Afghanistan, including the one that killed 13 US servicemen at Kabul airport last year — right after this photo was taken
ISIS-K has been responsible for a series of bloody attacks across Afghanistan. In October 2021, it claimed a mosque attack that killed and injured dozens of people in Kunduz
It was estimated that after the collapse of the Western-backed government, membership had risen from 2,200 to nearly 4,000 following the release of several thousand poisoners.
Shortly after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, SU intelligence officials were particularly concerned about possible attacks by ISIS-K. The perceived threat from the group is therefore not new.
In October 2021, Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl made similar comments, saying the US should remain vigilant about the threat from both Al Qaeda and the ISIS offshoot.
“I think the intelligence community is currently assessing that both ISIS-K and Al Qaeda have the intent to conduct outside operations, including against the United States, but neither currently has the ability to do that,” he told members. of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. .
“We could see ISIS-K generate that capacity somewhere between six or 12 months. I think the intelligence community’s current estimates that Al Qaeda will need a year or two to rebuild that capability,” he added.