According to U.S. and Afghan security officials, the Islamic State (ISIS) appears to have lost its stronghold in Iraq and Syria, but ISIS in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan appears to be expanding its terroristic footprint by recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the United States as well as other Western nations.
The Associated Press reported that an American intelligence official based in Afghanistan said a recent wave of attacks in the capital, Kabul, are “practice runs” for even bigger attacks in Europe and the United States.
Nearly two decades after the U.S.-led invasion, the extremist group is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities and its strategy of targeting civilians, both in Afghanistan and abroad. Concerns run so deep that many have come to see the Taliban, which has also clashed with ISIS, as a potential partner in containing it.
“This group is the most near-term threat to our homelands from Afghanistan,” the official said on condition of anonymity to preserve his operational security. “The IS core mandate is: You will conduct external attacks” in the U.S. and Europe. “That is their goal. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It is very scary.”
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, sees Afghanistan as a possible new base for IS now that it has been driven from Iraq and Syria. “ISIS has invested a disproportionate amount of attention and resources in Afghanistan,” he said, pointing to “huge arms stockpiling” in the east.
Without an aggressive counter-terrorism strategy, Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate will be able to carry out a large-scale attack in the U.S. or Europe within the next year, the U.S. intelligence official said, adding that ISIS fighters captured in Afghanistan have been found to be in contact with fellow militants in other countries.
Authorities have also already made at least eight arrests in the United States linked to the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
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