Some Afghan citizens who helped the United States during the war have joined the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) after being left behind during the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal reported that many turned to the Islamic State because they lacked income and were being hunted by the Taliban, which took over the country in mid-August as the U.S. withdrew its troops.
“The number of defectors joining the terrorist group is relatively small, but growing, according to Taliban leaders, former Afghan republic security officials and people who know the defectors. Importantly, these new recruits bring to Islamic State critical expertise in intelligence-gathering and warfare techniques, potentially strengthening the extremist organization’s ability to contest Taliban supremacy,” the Journal reported.
One of those who joined was an Afghan national army officer who previously “commanded the military’s weapons and ammunition depot in Gardez, the capital of southeastern Paktia province,” the outlet reported. That army officer was killed during a battle with the Taliban last week.
A former official told the outlet that several other members of Afghan’s former intelligence and military joined ISIS-K after the Taliban raided their homes “and demanded that they present themselves to the country’s new authorities,” the Journal added.
Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, told the outlet that “In some areas, ISIS has become very attractive” to Afghan military “who have been left behind.”
“If there were a resistance, they would have joined the resistance.” He said. “[But], For the time being, ISIS is the only other armed group.”
The revelation comes just days after top Pentagon officials warned ISIS-K could have the capability to attack Western countries and their allies in as little as six months.
Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Service Committee last week that the U.S. intelligence community determined ISIS-K could be ready to attack the West in 6 months to a year and that al Qaeda could be ready for such an attack in one to two years. ISIS-K is an acronym for the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch.
“We could see ISIS-K generate that capability in somewhere between six or 12 months, according to current assessments [from the intelligence community],” Kahl said, according to the Journal. “And for al Qaeda, it would take a year or two to reconstitute that capability. We have to remain vigilant against that possibility.”
Kahl also told lawmakers last week that the U.S. could not determine whether the Taliban would be able to counter a threat from ISIS-K.
“It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies. So, the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Kahl said.
Kahl is not the first Pentagon official to warn of ISIS-K’s rapidly developing capabilities. On September 28, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told the committee that terror groups in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the U.S. within one to three years.
“We now must continue to protect the American people from terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan,” Milley said after explaining that the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in August, remains a terrorist organization. “A reconstituted Al Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility and those conditions to include activities in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months. That mission will be much harder now, but not impossible, and we will continue to protect the American people.”
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