ISIS could hit Western interests in Europe and Asia from Afghanistan within SIX MONTHS as they creep back to prominence under the Taliban, US Army general warns
A division of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan will be able to target U.S. citizens in Europe and Asia within six months, a senior U.S. general told a Senate committee. General Michael Kurilla (pictured left), head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress that ‘at least hundreds of thousands’ of U.S. citizens could be vulnerable to an attack by ISIS-K, which has the ‘ultimate goal to strike on the American homeland.’ ISIS-K – the Islamic State in Khorasan – is an ISIS affiliate based in Afghanistan and a sworn enemy of both the Taliban and the United States.
The group has claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport attack during the U.S. evacuation in August 2021 which killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. soldiers. It continued launching attacks throughout 2022, including on mosques and schools. Kurilla’s comments were made during an address on Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee requesting funds for fiscal year 2024. ‘It is my commander’s estimate that they can do an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning,’ Kurilla said during the address this week. ‘ISIS-Khorasan grows emboldened, seeking to expand its ranks and inspire enable and direct attacks in the region and beyond – with the ultimate goal to strike on the American homeland,’ he added. He was then asked about the likelihood of an attack on U.S. soil.
‘It would be harder for them to do that against the American homeland,’ he said. ‘If you assess six months against Europe or Asia what would you assess would be the timeline against the homeland?’ senator Tom Cotton (pictured) of Arkansas asked him. ‘I think it’s hard to put a timeline on that,’ said Kurilla. ‘I think it is a higher probability overseas than it is in the homeland.’ When asked how many U.S. citizens (including troops, tourists and people working abroad) are in regions vulnerable to attack he agreed there would be ‘at least hundreds of thousands.’ 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 been made by other U.S. officials recently. ‘It’s a matter of time before they may have the ability and intent to attack the West,’ the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, said during a hearing last week. In January the National Counterterrorism Center Director, Christine Abizaid, described ISIS-K as the ‘threat actor I am most concerned about.’ ‘We see concerning indications of ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan and its ambition that might go beyond that immediate territory,’ she said.
ISIS-K was created in January 2015 by disillusioned Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan. Khorasan refers to the historic name of the region between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The group previously fought the Western-backed government that fell in August 2021. It is unclear how much control ISIS exerts over ISIS-K, but the main group does claim attacks carried out in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its stated aim is to impose an Islamic Caliphate in the region. In Afghanistan ISIS-K it has emerged as the primary threat to the Taliban’s efforts to instill peace in the country.
ISIS-K is generally considered to be an international problem, having attacked foreign targets, in the bombing of Kabul airport as well as in separate attacks on Chinese citizens 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 help finding those behind the airport attack. Ghafari was appointed by the Islamic State’s core leadership in the Middle East as head of its Khorasan affiliate in June 2020, according to the State Department.
It said Ghafari (pictured) was responsible for approving all ISIS-K operations throughout Afghanistan and arranging funding to conduct operations. Some reports suggest he was born in Iraq – based on his nickname of al-Muhajir or ‘the migrant’– but U.S. government documents list his birthplace as Afghanistan. He was believed to have been a mid-level commander in the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network, before joining the Islamic State affiliate. It was estimated that after the collapse of the Western-backed government its membership had risen from 2,200 to closer to 4,000 following the release of several thousand poisoners. Shortly after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan SU intelligence officials were particularly concerned about potential attacks by ISIS-K.
The perceived threat from the group is therefore not new. In October 2021 Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl made similar comments and said that the U.S. had to remain vigilant against the threat from both Al Qaeda and from the ISIS offshoot. ‘I think the intelligence community currently assesses that both ISIS-K and Al Qaeda have the intent to conduct external operations, including against the United States, but neither currently has the capability to do so,’ he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. ‘We could see ISIS-K generate that capability in somewhere between six or 12 months. I think the current assessments by the intelligence community is Al Qaeda would take a year or two to reconstitute that capability,’ he added.
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