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White House downplays ability of ISIS-K to strike U.S. homeland

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·3 min read
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Hours after terrorist attack in Afghanistan took the lives of 13 U.S. soldiers and injured more than a dozen more, White House press secretary Jen Psaki sought to assure the public that the terrorist network that claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing posed no direct threat to the American homeland. 

Asked what Thursday's attack said about the ability of the U.S. to manage the terrorist threat from groups like ISIS-K after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Psaki acknowledged the danger facing troops overseeing the evacuation effort, but made a distinction between that and the risk to Americans inside the U.S. 

“ISIS’s ability to target individuals who are on the ground in Afghanistan is very different from ISIS’s ability to attack the United States and attack the homeland,” Psaki said. “And we will maintain and continue over-the-horizon capacity with presence and partnership with countries in the region to insure that they don't develop that ability.”

ISIS-K, or Islamic State Khorasan, is a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban and is not known to have struck outside of the region. Thursday’s attack also killed 60 Afghans and injured 143 more. Still, other national security officials say that today’s bloody attack should be viewed as a grim warning.

In an interview with Yahoo News, former Trump administration national security adviser H.R. McMaster made the case that terrorist attacks like the one that occurred on Thursday would likely be repeated in Afghanistan in the days and months ahead. 

A Taliban fighter
A Taliban fighter at a checkpoint near the airport in Kabul. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

“What we saw today is just the beginning,” McMaster said in the interview just minutes after news of the Kabul attacks broke on social media and cable news channels. “We are going to see horrible image after horrible image. ... We’re going to confront the steady drumbeat of horrors inflicted on the Afghan people. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to give a damn? Or is this going to be like Rwanda?”

Republican critics of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan have argued that the pullout represents a threat to the safety of the world beyond the region as well. 

In remarks delivered from the White House in response to the terrorist bombing in Afghanistan, President Biden said that U.S. forces would work to track down anyone in Afghanistan who helped perpetrate the attack. 

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this — we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay,” the president said in a somber White House address.

But Biden is sticking with his self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 to withdrawal U.S. troops from Afghanistan. 

“The president relies on the advice of his military commanders and they continue to believe it is essential to get out by the 31st,” Psaki said, citing “ongoing threats” from groups like ISIS-K.

Psaki also dismissed Republican critics like former Trump adviser Stephen Miller who have scorned the idea of bringing thousands of Afghan refugees to the United States for fear that doing so would be unsafe or change the character of the country.

"What we have been working to do is to work with governors, with localities, with local leaders to give them detailed briefings on what our vetting process looks like,” Psaki said, “what the background check process looks like before any individual comes into the United States, and that is a background check process that is thorough before they are allowed to come in and step on U.S. soil." 


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