An Islamic State division based in Afghanistan will be able to target US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months, a top US general told a Senate committee.
General Michael Kurilla, head of US Central Command, told Congress that “at least hundreds of thousands” of American citizens could be vulnerable to an attack by ISIS, whose “ultimate goal is to strike the homeland American”.
ISIS-K – the Islamic State of Khorasan – is an affiliate of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan and a sworn enemy of the Taliban and the United States.
The group claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport attack during the US evacuation in August 2021 that killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US soldiers. It continued to launch attacks throughout 2022, including against mosques and schools.
Kurilla’s comments were made during a speech Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee requesting funds for fiscal year 2024.
General Michael Kurilla, head of US Central Command, told Congress that ISIS will be able to target US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months.
ISIS-K is an affiliate of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan. An Islamic State leader identified as Abu Haidar is pictured 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 commander estimates that they can conduct an overseas operation against American or Western interests overseas in less than six months with little or no warning,” Kurilla said during this week’s speech.
“ISIS-Khorasan is growing bolder, seeking to expand its ranks and inspire attacks and direct attacks in the region and beyond – with the ultimate goal of striking the American homeland,” he added.
He was then asked about the likelihood of an attack on US soil.
“It would be harder for them to do that against the American homeland,” he said.
“If you rate six months against Europe or Asia, what would be the schedule against homeland?” asked Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“I think it’s hard to put a timeline on this,” Kurilla said. “I think it’s a higher probability overseas than at home.”
When asked how many US citizens (including soldiers, tourists and people working overseas) were in areas vulnerable to attack, he agreed that there would be “at least hundreds of thousands”.
The commander also confirmed to the committee that there was a need for ammunition capable of hitting “hard and deeply buried” ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan.
Similar assessments have been made by other US officials recently.
“It’s a matter of time before they have the capability and the intent to attack the West,” Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier told a hearing last week. last week.
In January, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Christine Abizaid, described ISIS-K as “the threat actor that worries me the most”.
“We see indications of ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan and its ambition that may extend beyond this immediate territory,” she said.
Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of an explosion near the Interior Ministry in Kabul on January 1, 2023.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport bombing in August 2021, which killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US military personnel.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked during Thursday’s remarks when the group would likely be able to carry out an attack on US soil.
The Islamic State was created in January 2015 by disillusioned Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. Khorasan refers to the historical name of the region located 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 encompasses parts of modern Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Pakistan.
ISIS-K was established in 2015, as a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban, and its first leaders were from Pakistan.
It was quickly recognized by Islamic State leaders in Iraq and Syria and, in January 2016, declared a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Its strongholds are eastern Afghanistan, straddling the border with Pakistan in Nangarhar province, and northern Afghanistan.
In 2018 the group was weakened in northern Afghanistan, and in 2019 severely pushed back in the east. But in 2020, they regrouped and launched a series of devastating terrorist attacks.
The group previously fought the Western-backed government that fell in August 2021.
ISIS’s control over ISIS is unclear, but the main group claims attacks carried out in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its stated aim is to impose an Islamic caliphate in the region.
In Afghanistan, ISIS-K has become the main threat to the Taliban’s efforts to bring peace to the country.
ISIS-K is generally considered an international problem, having attacked foreign targets, in the Kabul airport bombing as well as 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 leader Sanaullah Ghafari, 28, and for help in locating him. those responsible for the airport attack.
Ghafari was named by top Islamic State leaders in the Middle East to head its Khorasan affiliate in June 2020, according to the State Department.
He said Ghafari was responsible for approving all ISIS operations throughout Afghanistan and arranging the funding to carry out the operations.
Some reports suggest he was born in Iraq – based on his nickname al-Muhajir or “the migrant” – but US government documents indicate his birthplace is Afghanistan.
He was reportedly a mid-level commander in the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, before joining the Islamic State affiliate.
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice announced in February last year that it was offering a $10 million reward for information leading to ISIS-K leader Sanaullah Ghafari.
Ghafari is believed to have approved of all IS attacks in Afghanistan, including the one that killed 13 US servicemen at Kabul airport last year – moments after this photo was taken
ISIS-K has been responsible for a series of bloody attacks across Afghanistan. In October 2021, he claimed responsibility for a mosque attack that killed and injured dozens in Kunduz
It was estimated that after the collapse of the Western-backed government, its membership had grown from 2,200 to nearly 4,000 following the release of several thousand poisoners.
Shortly after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, US intelligence officials were particularly concerned about potential ISIS-K attacks. The perceived threat of the group is therefore not new.
In October 2021, Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl made similar comments and said the United States must remain vigilant against the threat from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State branch.
“I believe the intelligence community is currently assessing that ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda intend 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 generating this capability in six or 12 months. I think current intelligence community assessments are that al-Qaeda would take a year or two to rebuild that capability,” he added.