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- ISIS could strike Western interests from Afghanistan within months, a top US general says.
- Gen. Michael Kurilla warned the terror group’s Afghanistan affiliate could stage attacks abroad.
- Its “ultimate goal” is to strike the US homeland, Kurilla told lawmakers, which would be difficult.
The Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch will be capable of striking Western interests in Europe and Asia in as little as six months, a top US general warns.
ISIS-K, formally known as the Islamic State-Khorasan, is the Afghanistan affiliate of the notorious terror group and has claimed responsibility for several high-profile and deadly attacks across the country since the chaotic US withdrawal in August 2021 and the subsequent seizure of power by its enemy, the Taliban.
Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), told lawmakers on Thursday that extremist groups operating in Afghanistan see “opportunity” under the Taliban’s tenuous grip on security. Specifically, he said ISIS-K has become stronger and more committed to orchestrating attacks in the region and beyond, and has the “ultimate goal to strike on the American homeland.”
ISIS-K will be capable of carrying out “an external operation against US or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning,” Kurilla said in testimony delivered to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, later clarifying this meant Europe or Asia. “It is much harder for them to be able to do that against the homeland.”
When asked by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton about the likelihood of a terror attack against the US or its allies, Kurilla said there is a “higher probability” of this happening overseas than on the US mainland.
Taliban in a van patrol the streets of the city on October 9, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Kurilla also added that the US military is increasing its intelligence efforts to be able to gain access to specific networks, and that there is also a need for additional munitions. He told lawmakers that he can only detail airstrikes against ISIS-K targets in a classified environment.
ISIS-K first made itself known in the region in 2015 and fought against the Taliban for years — also clashing with US, Afghan, and Pakistani security forces. The terror group launched dozens of attacks in the months leading up to the Afghan government’s collapse in August 2021, and claimed responsibility for a devastating suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in the dying days of the US withdrawal, which killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 American troops.
President Joe Biden promised the US would have its revenge, and the State Department later said it was committed to using a “full set of counterterrorism tools” to fight ISIS-K. The terror group continued to carry out attacks across Afghanistan in 2022 — targeting everything from schools to mosques, and killing scores of people.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its subsequent refusal to recognize the Taliban have limited its options to counter ISIS-K. Biden administration officials have backed an over-the-horizon targeting strategy, using surveillance systems to find terror group leaders and attack them with drones, but there’s little evidence to be made public so far that it’s working to limit ISIS-K.
US forces, meanwhile, have also been targeting ISIS assets, leaders, and fighters in countries like Somalia, Iraq, and Syria. In the latter two countries, US and partner forces have carried out nearly 100 operations against the terror group since the start of 2023, according to CENTCOM fact sheets.
“The US remains committed to ensuring the lasting defeat of ISIS to preserve regional security and stability,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, earlier this year.