With the U.S. military having completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Taliban will have their hands full dealing with ISIS-K, according to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., U.S. CENTCOM commander.
The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan earlier this month after swiftly defeating the U.S.-backed and trained Afghan forces in less than two weeks. In doing so, they released thousands of prisoners, some of which were ISIS-K fighters, from the Parwan Detention Facility at Bagram and a separate prison, Pul-e-Charkhi.
While the Taliban let out the prisoners of their rival organization, Taliban fighters killed Abu Omar Khorasani, a onetime ISIS-K leader, and eight other members, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"I do believe the Taliban will have their hands full with ISIS-K, and they let those people out of prisons, and now they are going to be able to reap what they sow," McKenzie said during Monday afternoon's Pentagon briefing, in which he announced all U.S. troops had left Afghanistan.
The Taliban worked with U.S. forces during the last two weeks as the United States and several other Western countries evacuated foreign nationals and Afghan allies who could be targets under the new regime. McKenzie noted the two sides, which had been on opposite sides of the war in its infancy, made logical partners during the evacuation because both groups had the same goal: the departure of U.S. troops on Aug. 31.
"They remain a very lethal force, and I think we would assess that probably, there’s at least 2,000 hardcore ISIS fighters in Afghanistan now," he added. "And, of course, many of those come from the prisons that were opened a few days ago. So that number is up and is probably as high as it’s ever been in quite a while. That will be a challenge for the Taliban in the days ahead."
Last week, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the number of ISIS-K fighters released from the prisons was "clearly... in the thousands."
U.S. officials in the military and the Biden administration have repeatedly warned of a possible ISIS-K attack since the evacuation efforts began on Aug. 14. Those fears came to fruition last Thursday when a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. military members and about 170 others at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
They had purportedly planned other attacks as well, though the U.S. military thwarted those efforts. In one instance, the U.S. used an airstrike to hit a vehicle with explosives in it that posed an “imminent threat.” There were 10 civilian casualties, according to locals, while Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban noted “significant secondary explosions from the vehicle,” which indicates the “presence of a substantial amount of explosive material."
The Pentagon is “aware of reports of civilian casualties,” and officials are “investigating further," he added.
There were also five rockets fired at the airport on Monday, which the U.S. successfully prevented.
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Original Author: Mike Brest