WASHINGTON — President Biden’s nationwide safety adviser warned on Sunday that the specter of a terrorist assault by the Islamic State posed a critical hazard to the administration’s evacuation of 1000’s of People and Afghan allies from the worldwide airport in Kabul.
“The menace is actual. It’s acute. It’s persistent. And it’s one thing that we’re targeted on with each software in our arsenal,” Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, mentioned on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
His feedback had been essentially the most pressing up to now concerning a variety of steadily rising threats that intelligence and army officers have privately briefed Mr. Biden and his high aides on in current days, officers mentioned.
Neither Mr. Sullivan nor different senior American army or intelligence officers supplied particulars in regards to the threats or their specificity. Present and former officers say, nonetheless, that they vary from a missile assault in opposition to a transport airplane taking off or touchdown at Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport to a bomb-laden truck or suicide bombers infiltrating the crowd outside the airport.
Mr. Biden mentioned on Friday that U.S. army and counterterrorism officers had been intently awaiting threatened ISIS assaults, noting that 1000’s of prisoners had been launched in Kabul and different areas. Whereas the Taliban is unlikely to have consciously set free the Islamic State fighters, the chaos in Afghanistan in current weeks allowed all method of prisoners to be free of custody, together with the Taliban’s enemies.
“ISIS-Ok has been ready for a chance like this, the place its fighters can exploit the chaos of the state of affairs on the bottom for an opportunity to kill American troopers,” mentioned Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst on the Soufan Group, a New York-based safety consulting agency, referring to the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate in Afghanistan.
U.N. counterterrorism officers mentioned in June that ISIS had carried out 77 assaults in Afghanistan within the first 4 months of this 12 months, up from 21 in the identical interval in 2020. The assaults final 12 months included a strike in opposition to Kabul College in November and a rocket barrage in opposition to the airport in Kabul a month later. Some analysts say the group additionally has hyperlinks to the Haqqani community, one other militant group.
For the previous week, U.S. officers have warned about threats in opposition to the airport and American operations to evacuate civilians from Kabul. By Friday, officers mentioned, the menace reporting was rising extra acute.
An assault on the airport, present and former officers mentioned, could be a strategic blow in opposition to each america and the Taliban, who’re attempting to exhibit that they’ll management the nation.
The Taliban have fought ISIS lately, and leaders of the Islamic State in Afghanistan denounced the Taliban takeover of the nation, criticizing their model of Islamic rule as insufficiently hard-line.
Mr. Sullivan mentioned that American commanders on the bottom had been utilizing “all kinds of capabilities” to defend the airfield in opposition to an assault, and had been working intently with spy businesses to determine and defeat any threats. He didn’t present particulars.
“It’s one thing that we’re inserting paramount precedence on stopping or disrupting,” Mr. Sullivan mentioned. “And we are going to do every part that we are able to for so long as we’re on the bottom to maintain that from taking place. However we’re taking it completely lethal critically.”
Certainly, American officers mentioned on Saturday that the U.S. army was establishing different routes to the Kabul airport for People, Afghan allies and residents from different Western nations due to the menace ISIS posed to the airfield and its environment, a growth beforehand reported by CNN.
On Thursday night time, CH-47 Chinook helicopters picked up 169 People at a lodge assembly place and whisked them to security, somewhat than having them stroll 200 yards to an airport gate the place a big, unruly crowd had gathered.
American and Western cargo planes taking off from the airport have allotted flares and chaff, a typical precautionary apply in battle zones like Afghanistan and Iraq to idiot heat-seeking missiles fired from the bottom, army officers mentioned.
U.S. army officers in Kabul who’re speaking with senior Taliban leaders to supply secure passage to the airport for People and Afghan allies are additionally on this uncommon occasion of cooperating to thwart a typical enemy: ISIS.
A lethal assault in opposition to American and Afghan civilians could be a catastrophe not just for america, but additionally for the Taliban, who’re transferring to consolidate management over Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been enemies, preventing one another on the battlefield for management of components of the nation.
Perceive the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who’re the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Right here’s extra on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Western counterterrorism analysts say a high-profile assault by ISIS in the course of the evacuation would most certainly carry the group’s flagging fortunes, recruiting and status.
A United Nations report in June assessed that the Islamic State’s “territorial losses have affected the group’s capacity to recruit and generate new funding.”
Though the ISIS affiliate was nonetheless believed to have 1,500 to 2,200 fighters in small areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, the report mentioned, “it has been pressured to decentralize and consists primarily of cells and small teams throughout the nation, appearing in an autonomous method whereas sharing the identical ideology.”
Whereas the group suffered army setbacks beginning in summer time 2018, the report concluded that since June 2020, underneath its formidable new chief, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “stays lively and harmful,” and is in search of to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and different militants.
“On condition that ISIS-Ok and the Taliban are enemies, it is going to be a problem for ISIS-Ok,” Mr. Clarke mentioned. “However, the Taliban now has its palms full with governing, which can eat appreciable bandwidth throughout the group.”
Nathan Gross sales, the State Division’s counterterrorism coordinator within the Trump administration, mentioned on Sunday that if the ISIS affiliate was able to attacking the airport in Kabul, “that implies Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal will probably be a permissive setting for all types of terrorist teams, even these hostile to the Taliban.”
Protection Division officers have been tight-lipped in regards to the threats and what they’re doing to defeat them, citing operational safety.
John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, declined on Saturday to touch upon any particular menace info, however he acknowledged that the safety state of affairs on the airport was extraordinarily risky.
“I’m not going to get into particular menace assessments,” Mr. Kirby mentioned. “The state of affairs in Kabul, in the entire metropolis, is fluid and dynamic. And it adjustments. It adjustments nearly by the hour, and it adjustments in areas across the airport. It’s very, very fluid and dynamic.”
Julian Barnes contributed reporting.