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ISIS Poses ‘Acute’ Menace to U.S. Evacuation Efforts in Kabul, Sullivan Says

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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 hundreds of Individuals 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 centered on with each software in our arsenal,” Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, stated on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

His feedback had been probably the most pressing to date relating to a variety of steadily growing threats that intelligence and army officers have privately briefed Mr. Biden and his high aides on in latest days, officers stated.

Neither Mr. Sullivan nor different senior American army or intelligence officers offered particulars in regards to the threats or their specificity. Present and former officers say, nevertheless, 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 exterior the airport.

Mr. Biden stated on Friday that U.S. army and counterterrorism officers had been carefully awaiting threatened ISIS assaults, noting that hundreds 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 latest weeks allowed all method of prisoners to be free of custody, together with the Taliban’s enemies.

“ISIS-Okay has been ready for a chance like this, the place its fighters can exploit the chaos of the scenario on the bottom for an opportunity to kill American troopers,” stated 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 stated in June that ISIS had carried out 77 assaults in Afghanistan within the first 4 months of this yr, up from 21 in the identical interval in 2020. The assaults final yr 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 stated, the menace reporting was rising extra acute.

An assault on the airport, present and former officers stated, can be a strategic blow in opposition to each the USA and the Taliban, who’re attempting to reveal that they will 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 stated 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 carefully with spy companies to determine and defeat any threats. He didn’t present particulars.

“It’s one thing that we’re putting paramount precedence on stopping or disrupting,” Mr. Sullivan stated. “And we are going to do every little thing that we will for so long as we’re on the bottom to maintain that from occurring. However we’re taking it completely lethal severely.”

Certainly, American officers stated on Saturday that the U.S. army was establishing different routes to the Kabul airport for Individuals, Afghan allies and residents from different Western nations due to the menace ISIS posed to the airfield and its environment, a improvement beforehand reported by CNN.

On Thursday night time, CH-47 Chinook helicopters picked up 169 Individuals 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 observe in battle zones like Afghanistan and Iraq to idiot heat-seeking missiles fired from the bottom, army officers stated.

U.S. army officers in Kabul who’re speaking with senior Taliban leaders to offer protected passage to the airport for Individuals 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 can be a catastrophe not just for the USA, but in addition for the Taliban, who’re shifting to consolidate management over Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State have been enemies, combating one another on the battlefield for management of elements of the nation.

Western counterterrorism analysts say a high-profile assault by ISIS throughout the evacuation would most certainly elevate 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 capability 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 stated, “it has been compelled 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 season 2018, the report concluded that since June 2020, underneath its bold new chief, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “stays lively and harmful,” and is looking for to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and different militants.

“On condition that ISIS-Okay and the Taliban are enemies, it will likely be a problem for ISIS-Okay,” Mr. Clarke stated. “Nonetheless, the Taliban now has its fingers full with governing, which is able to eat appreciable bandwidth inside the group.”

Nathan Gross sales, the State Division’s counterterrorism coordinator within the Trump administration, stated 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 atmosphere for all kinds 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 scenario on the airport was extraordinarily unstable.

“I’m not going to get into particular menace assessments,” Mr. Kirby stated. “The scenario in Kabul, in the entire metropolis, is fluid and dynamic. And it modifications. It modifications virtually by the hour, and it modifications in areas across the airport. It’s very, very fluid and dynamic.”

Julian Barnes contributed reporting.

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