White House Says US Troops Face 'Added Risk' From Daesh Franchise Longer They Stay in Kabul
23:03 GMT 24.08.2021 (Updated: 23:04 GMT 24.08.2021)
© REUTERS / US MARINESA U.S. Navy medical surgeon with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) talks to an interpreter as he provides medical assistance to a family during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 21, 2021. Picture taken August 21, 2021
© REUTERS / US MARINES
As the large US presence at Kabul's airport in the Afghan capital continues amid a massive airlift of NATO assets, the risk of an attack against them by ISIS-Khorasan, the local Daesh franchise, increases, the White House said on Tuesday.
Speaking with reporters later on Tuesday, Psaki said the deadline for the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan is still August 31, but that civilian evacuations would have to end before then in order to remove the roughly 4,000 troops on time. However, the itinerary is subject to change depending on certain factors, she said.
“That includes the threat of ISIS, which is of great concern, understandably, to the president, given the threat it poses to our military who are on the ground,” she said. “It also includes the essential aspect of having the Taliban’s coordination continue over the coming days. So we can facilitate as many people as we’ve been getting out.”
Psaki said that with more than 57,000 people evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport over the last week, the airlift was on track to become the largest such operation in US history. However, reporters were concerned that the Taliban had begun turning people away from the airport. Psaki stated that the administration had "conveyed to the Taliban" that evacuees "should be able to get to the airport."
"Our expectation and what we will continue to convey directly through a range of channels we have is that the individuals, the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, those who are eligible, those who we are facilitating their departure, will be able to reach the airport," she added.
A day prior, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that the threat posed to crowds outside the airport by ISIS-K “is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal.”
“It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting,” he added. “And we will do everything that we can for as long as we are on the ground to keep that from happening. But we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously.”
Sullivan added that the Taliban was in charge of security in Kabul, so any attack by Daesh would be on their shoulders.
The Daesh franchise, which takes its name Khorasan from the ancient Persian-language name for the region that includes much of Afghanistan, is believed to have originated in 2015 among former members of Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, a loose agglomeration of Pashtun militias on Pakistan’s side of the border. The US claims ISIS-K works in coordination with the Haqqani Network, but the Taliban, whom ISIS-K has fought in recent years, claims there is no such thing as the Haqqani Network and that the purported group is part of the Taliban.
US Special Operations officials told the Washington Post last year that the US was also helping the Taliban to fight ISIS-K, which had begun even before the February 2020 peace deal the Taliban signed with then-US President Donald Trump that led to the present withdrawal.
However, many have also claimed that the United States is behind the creation of ISIS-K, if not also supporting its continued existence. In 2018, Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri said the spread of Daesh into the region would provide the US "with the much desired pretext" to prolong their military presence there.
"After witnessing Daesh and other organized terrorist groups losing their ground in Iraq and Syria, they are now relocating them to Afghanistan," Baqeri said, as quoted by the US state-funded outlet Voice of America. The quote was originally published in English on the Iranian site PressTV, but the US Department of Justice seized the outlet’s domain in June.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has recently become part of the government’s peace council after President Ashraf Ghani fled into exile, also told VOA in April 2017 that "I consider Daesh their tool … I do not differentiate at all between Daesh and America."
He explained to Al-Jazeera later that year that the US had “a hand in” the group’s creation and was using Daesh’s presence to test out new terror weapons like the “Mother of All Bombs,” an 11-ton explosive with a blast radius of nearly 1 mile.