The head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, has warned Congress that an ISIS affiliate based in Afghanistan could launch attacks on US citizens in Europe and Asia within six months.
Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “at least hundreds of thousands” of US citizens could be vulnerable to an attack by ISIS-K, the Islamic State in Khurasan. The group has claimed responsibility for the August 2021 Kabul airport attack, among others.
Kurilla stated that ISIS-K’s “ultimate goal” is to strike the American homeland, and that the group is seeking to expand its ranks and inspire, enable, and direct attacks in the region and beyond.
While he acknowledged that an attack on US soil would be more difficult for the group to carry out, he suggested that an attack on Europe or Asia is more likely.
The US commander estimated that ISIS-K could carry out an external operation against US or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning.
When asked about the number of US citizens in regions vulnerable to attack, Kurilla agreed that there were “at least hundreds of thousands,” including troops, tourists, and people working abroad.
Kurilla also confirmed to the committee that there was a need for munitions that can hit “hard and deeply buried” ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan. The group was created in January 2015 by disillusioned Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan and is an ISIS affiliate.
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is an ISIS affiliate based in Afghanistan and one of six or seven regional offshoots of the Islamic State. The K stands for the Khorasan region, which historically encompasses parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
ISIS-K was recognized by ISIS’s leaders in Iraq and Syria in 2015 and declared a terrorist organization by the State Department in January 2016.
Its strongholds are eastern Afghanistan, straddling the border with Pakistan in Nangarhar province, and the north of Afghanistan. The group has previously fought the Western-backed government that fell in August 2021. ISIS-K’s stated aim is to impose an Islamic Caliphate in the region.
Last year, the State Department offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the capture of ISIS-K leader Sanaullah Ghafari and for help finding those behind the airport attack.
Ghafari was appointed by ISIS’s core leadership in the Middle East as head of its Khorasan affiliate in June 2020 and was responsible for approving all ISIS-K operations throughout Afghanistan and arranging funding to conduct operations.
In conclusion, ISIS-K is generally considered to be an international problem, having attacked foreign targets. The perceived threat from the group is not new, and US intelligence officials have been concerned about potential attacks by ISIS-K for some time.