A division of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan will be able to attack US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months, a top US general has told a Senate committee.
General Michael Kurilla, the head of 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 it has the “ultimate goal of attacking the homeland.” US”.
ISIS-K, the Islamic State in Khurasan, is an Afghanistan-based affiliate of ISIS and a sworn enemy of both the Taliban and the United States.
The group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kabul airport during the US evacuation in August 2021 that killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US soldiers. It continued to launch attacks throughout 2022, including on mosques and schools.
Kurilla’s comments were made during a speech Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of a defense spending request for fiscal year 2024.
General Michael Kurilla, head of the US Central Command, told Congress that ISIS-K will be able to attack US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months.
ISIS-K is an affiliate of ISIS based in Afghanistan. An ISIS-K leader identified as Abu Haidar is pictured with his seven fighters in an undated photo. All of the men were killed during a clash with Afghan forces in Nangarhar province, the heart of ISIS-K.
“According to my commander’s estimation, they can carry out an external operation against American or Western interests abroad in less than six months with little or no warning,” Kurilla said during this week’s speech.
“ISIS-Khorasan is emboldened, seeking to expand its ranks and inspire direct and enabled strikes in the region and beyond, with the ultimate goal of attacking the American homeland,” it 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 calculate six months against Europe or Asia, what do you think the timeline against the motherland would be?’ asked Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“I think it’s hard to put a timeline on that,” Kurilla said. “I think it’s more likely abroad than in the home country.”
When asked how many US 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 munitions were needed that could hit ‘hard and deeply buried’ ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of an explosion near the Interior Ministry in Kabul, on January 1, 2023.
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport bombing in August 2021 that killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 members of the US military.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked during Thursday’s speech when the group is likely to be able to carry out an attack on US soil.
ISIS-K was created in January 2015 by disillusioned Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan. Khurasan refers to the historical name for the region between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is one of the six or seven regional branches of the Islamic State: the K stands for the Khorasan region, which historically encompasses parts of present-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
ISIS-K was created in 2015, as a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, and its original leaders were from Pakistan.
It was soon recognized by ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria, and in January 2016 it was declared a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Its strongholds are eastern Afghanistan, straddling the Pakistani border in Nangarhar province, and northern Afghanistan.
In 2018, the group was weakened in northern Afghanistan, and in 2019 it was severely defeated in the east. But in 2020 they regrouped and launched a series of devastating terror attacks.
The group previously fought the Western-backed government that fell in August 2021.
It is not clear how much control ISIS exercises over ISIS-K, but the main group claims to have carried out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their stated goal is to impose an Islamic caliphate on 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 to be an international problem, having attacked foreign targets, in the Kabul airport bombing, and in separate attacks against Chinese nationals 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 Sanaullah Ghafari, 28, and for helping find those responsible for the airport attack. .
Ghafari was appointed by the central leadership of Islamic State in the Middle East as the head of its Khorasan affiliate in June 2020, according to the State Department.
He said that Ghafari was responsible for approving all ISIS-K operations throughout Afghanistan and organizing the funds to carry out the operations.
Some reports suggest that he was born in Iraq, based on his nickname of al-Muhajir or ‘the migrant’, but US government documents indicate that his place of birth is Afghanistan.
He was believed to have been a mid-level commander in the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network before joining the Islamic State affiliate.
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice department announced in February last year that it was offering a $10 million reward for information leading to ISIS-K chief Sanaullah Ghafari.
Ghafari is believed to have signed off on all ISIS-K attacks in Afghanistan, including the one that killed 13 US service personnel at Kabul airport last year, moments after this photograph was taken.
ISIS-K has been responsible for a series of bloody attacks across Afghanistan. In October 2021, he claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque that killed and injured dozens of people in Kunduz.
It was estimated that after the collapse of the Western-backed government, its membership had risen from 2,200 to close to 4,000 following the release of several thousand poisoners.
Shortly after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, SU intelligence officials were particularly concerned about potential ISIS-K attacks. Therefore, the perceived threat from the group is not new.
In October 2021, Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl made similar comments, saying that the US had to remain vigilant against the threat from both al Qaeda and the ISIS branch.
“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 currently neither have the capability to do so,” he told members of the Armed Services Committee of the Senate. .
“We could see ISIS-K build that capacity somewhere between six to 12 months. I think current intelligence community assessments indicate that it would take al Qaeda a year or two to rebuild that capability,” he added.