ISIS-K terrorists in Afghanistan may be capable of launching attacks against the United States within six months, according to the Pentagon’s top policy official this week.
During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Colin Kahl, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told lawmakers that while both ISIS-K and Al Qaeda cannot execute attacks outside of Afghanistan at this time, he estimated ISIS-K could be able to conduct a strike abroad within six to 12 months. Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks, likely won’t be able to attack abroad for one to two years.
“We’re fairly certain that they have the intention to do so,” Kahl said. “We have considerable evidence that they have the intent. The question at the moment is the capability.”
Kahl said the Defense Department is working to ensure the terrorist groups do not resume attacks abroad. The Pentagon is conducting daily intelligence-gathering flights over Afghanistan and sharing the information with U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom.
The Pentagon official said it was unclear if the Taliban – which took over Afghanistan after President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal and evacuation – will assist with efforts to control the terrorist threat. Kahl claimed the militant group is “highly motivated” to push back against their “mortal enemy” ISIS-K, but to what extent is uncertain.
Even more unclear is how the Taliban will behave with Al Qaeda, Kahl noted, considering the two groups have a history of working together. Several members of the Taliban’s new Afghanistan government are linked to the Haqqani network, which has ties with Al Qaeda.
Some lawmakers questioned why they should believe Kahl’s evaluation of the situation given the intelligence community’s recent failures on other issues in Afghanistan, such as the speed at which the nation would fall to the Taliban once U.S. forces were no longer on the ground.
“I think this disconnect between the reality on the ground and what the Biden administration assessed would happen with respect to the collapse of the Afghan security forces is deeply troubling,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). “How can you possibly assure us that such a disconnect isn’t happening between the reality on the ground and the Biden administration’s analysis of how long it’s going to take Al Qaeda or ISIS-K to gain the ability to attack the United States?”
Kahl acknowledged the Senator’s concerns and recognized that the administration was lacking when it came to understanding Afghanistan.
“I think we should all be humbled that we’ve all known less about Afghanistan than we thought we did,” he said.
On Monday, Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that the terrorist attack outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 U.S. troops raised the terrorist organization’s profile.
“The group has gained some notoriety in a way that could be quite compelling for them on the transnational stage. At the same time, they’re fighting the Taliban,” Abizaid said. “How that force on force engagement in Afghanistan will go will have some defining characteristics about what the transnational threat looks like.”