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Suspected ISIS, Taliban found among Afghan evacuees, reports say

ISIS flag (DoD Photo/Released)
August 25, 2021

Some of the people that have been evacuated from Afghanistan in the past week have been flagged for potential ties to the Taliban, as well as the Islamic State terrorist group, ISIS.

A U.S. official told Defense One on Tuesday that security screeners at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar have determined that at least one of the Afghans who was evacuated from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has potential ties to ISIS. The official also said up to 100 of the 7,000 Afghan applicants of the Special Immigration Visas (SIV) program have been flagged as potential matches on western intelligence agency watch lists.

“There’s certainly been a number of them” who triggered alerts for additional security screenings, the official told Defense One.

The official said that in most cases, those Afghans who were flagged were cleared by additional security screenings, but in at least one case, the evacuee “looks like a potential member of ISIS,” the official said. “They’re still working that through.” 

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden said members of the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch, known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, posed a risk to U.S. evacuation efforts.

“Every day we have troops on the ground, these troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K,” Biden said on Sunday.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also warned that the threat from ISIS in Afghanistan “is real, it is acute, it is persistent.”

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported French authorities had identified at least five Afghan evacuees who have been placed under surveillance on suspicions of having direct or indirect ties to the Taliban. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said one of the evacuees “obviously linked” to the Taliban had admitted being a part of the militant group and even manning an armed blockade in the city of Kabul.

The Afghan evacuee with ties to the Taliban reportedly slipped onto flights out of Afghanistan during chaotic evacuation efforts last weekend. As of Wednesday, the Biden administration said more than 82,000 people have been evacuated on U.S. and coalition flights out of Afghanistan in the last 11 days.

Biden administration officials have given assurances that people being evacuated from Afghanistan are being vetted through a comprehensive screening process.

On a Tuesday press call with reporters, a senior administration official said that Afghans are being evacuated to third-party countries and are going through “robust security processing” before coming to the U.S.

“That process involves biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock to vet all these Afghans before they’re allowed into the United States,” the senior administration official said, according to Defense One.