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

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President Biden’s nationalist information advisor warned of mounting but unspecified violent risks to the U.S. ngo to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan allies.

A assemblage  waited by an entranceway  to the planetary   airdrome  successful  Kabul, Afghanistan, arsenic  U.S. Marines secured the perimeter connected  Sunday.
Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Eric Schmitt

Aug. 22, 2021, 5:31 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s nationalist information advisor warned connected Sunday that the menace of a violent onslaught by the Islamic State posed a superior information to the administration’s evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from the planetary airport successful Kabul.

“The menace is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is thing that we are focused connected with each instrumentality successful our arsenal,” Jake Sullivan, the nationalist information adviser, said connected CNN’s “State of the Union.”

His comments were the astir urgent truthful acold regarding a scope of steadily expanding threats that quality and subject officials person privately briefed Mr. Biden and his apical aides connected successful caller days, officials said.

Neither Mr. Sullivan nor different elder American subject oregon quality officials provided details astir the threats oregon their specificity. Current and erstwhile officials say, however, that they scope from a rocket onslaught against a transport level taking disconnected oregon landing astatine Hamid Karzai International Airport to a bomb-laden motortruck oregon termination bombers infiltrating the crowd extracurricular the airport.

Mr. Biden said connected Friday that U.S. subject and counterterrorism officials were intimately watching for threatened ISIS attacks, noting that thousands of prisoners had been released successful Kabul and different locations. While the Taliban is improbable to person consciously fto retired the Islamic State fighters, the chaos successful Afghanistan successful caller weeks allowed each mode of prisoners to beryllium freed from custody, including the Taliban’s enemies.

“ISIS-K has been waiting for an accidental similar this, wherever its fighters tin exploit the chaos of the concern connected the crushed for a accidental to termination American soldiers,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism expert astatine the Soufan Group, a New York-based information consulting firm, referring to the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate successful Afghanistan.

For the past week, U.S. officials person warned astir threats against the airdrome and American operations to evacuate civilians from Kabul. By Friday, officials said, the menace reporting was increasing much acute.

An onslaught connected the airport, existent and erstwhile officials said, would beryllium a strategical stroke against some the United States and the Taliban, who are trying to show that they tin power the country.

The Taliban person fought ISIS successful caller years, and leaders of the Islamic State successful Afghanistan denounced the Taliban takeover of the country, criticizing their mentation of Islamic regularisation arsenic insufficiently hard-line.

Mr. Sullivan said that American commanders connected the crushed were utilizing “a wide assortment of capabilities” to support the airfield against an attack, and were moving intimately with spy agencies to place and decision immoderate threats. He did not supply details.

“It is thing that we are placing paramount precedence connected stopping oregon disrupting,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And we volition bash everything that we tin for arsenic agelong arsenic we are connected the crushed to support that from happening. But we are taking it perfectly deadly seriously.”


Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Indeed, American officials said connected Saturday that the U.S. subject was establishing alternate routes to the Kabul airport for Americans, Afghan allies and citizens from different Western nations due to the fact that of the menace ISIS posed to the airfield and its surroundings, a improvement antecedently reported by CNN.

On Thursday night, CH-47 Chinook helicopters picked up 169 Americans astatine a edifice gathering spot and whisked them to safety, alternatively than having them locomotion 200 yards to an airdrome gross wherever a large, unruly assemblage had gathered.

American and Western cargo planes taking disconnected from the airdrome person dispensed flares and chaff, a communal precautionary signifier successful struggle zones similar Afghanistan and Iraq to fool heat-seeking missiles fired from the ground, subject officials said.

U.S. subject officials successful Kabul who are communicating with elder Taliban leaders to supply harmless transition to the airdrome for Americans and Afghan allies are besides successful this uncommon lawsuit of cooperating to thwart a communal enemy: ISIS.

A deadly onslaught against American and Afghan civilians would beryllium a catastrophe not lone for the United States, but besides for the Taliban, who are moving to consolidate power implicit Kabul. The Taliban and the Islamic State person been enemies, warring each different connected the battlefield for power of parts of the country.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

Western counterterrorism analysts accidental a high-profile onslaught by ISIS during the evacuation would astir apt assistance the group’s flagging fortunes, recruiting and prestige.

A United Nations report successful June assessed that the Islamic State’s “territorial losses person affected the group’s quality to enlistee and make caller funding.”

Although the ISIS affiliate was inactive believed to person 1,500 to 2,200 fighters successful tiny areas of Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, the study said, “it has been forced to decentralize and consists chiefly of cells and tiny groups crossed the country, acting successful an autonomous mode portion sharing the aforesaid ideology.”

While the radical suffered subject setbacks starting successful summertime 2018, the study concluded that since June 2020, nether its ambitious caller leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, the affiliate “remains progressive and dangerous,” and is seeking to swell its ranks with disaffected Taliban fighters and different militants.

“Given that ISIS-K and the Taliban are enemies, it volition beryllium a situation for ISIS-K,” Mr. Clarke said. “Nevertheless, the Taliban present has its hands afloat with governing, which volition devour sizeable bandwidth wrong the organization.”

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator successful the Trump administration, said connected Sunday that if the ISIS affiliate was susceptible of attacking the airdrome successful Kabul, “that suggests Afghanistan aft the U.S. withdrawal volition beryllium a permissive situation for each sorts of violent groups, adjacent those hostile to the Taliban.”

Defense Department officials person been tight-lipped astir the threats and what they are doing to decision them, citing operational security.

John F. Kirby, the main Pentagon spokesman, declined connected Saturday to remark connected immoderate circumstantial menace information, but helium acknowledged that the information concern astatine the airdrome was highly volatile.

“I’m not going to get into circumstantial menace assessments,” Mr. Kirby said. “The concern successful Kabul, successful the full city, is fluid and dynamic. And it changes. It changes astir by the hour, and it changes successful locations astir the airport. It’s very, precise fluid and dynamic.”

Julian Barnes contributed reporting.

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