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Undersecretary of defence for policy Colin Kahl, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, said the US could see the Isis-K “generate that capability in somewhere between six or 12 months.”
The Islamic State Khorasan Province, referred to as Isis-K, is the terror outfit’s eastern wing prevalent in Afghanistan.
Mr Kahl said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Isis effectively. “It is our assessment that the Taliban and Isis-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after Isis-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” he said.
The official suggested that the Isis in Afghanistan had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters.
Following the US’s withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in August that ended its two-decade-long war with the Taliban, Isis-K has renewed its attacks on the country.
The terror outfit considers both the Taliban and the US its enemies and was responsible for the 26 August blasts outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, which killed at least 170 Afghan nationals and 13 US troops.
The outfit is known for targeting the minority Shia sect of Islam in Afghanistan. Suicide bombers affiliated with the outfit also struck two Shia mosques this month, killing at least 90 worshipers.
The US, during its time in Afghanistan, fought the Taliban and attacked both the Isis and al-Qaeda.
Mr Kahl suggested that the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan posed a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. He added that it could take al-Qaeda “a year or two” to regenerate its capability to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan and against the US.
Earlier in September, chair of the joint chiefs of staff General Mark Milley had said that the terror threat from Afghanistan is now lower than it was on 11 September 2001, but added that the Isis-K or al-Qaeda could reconstitute within a relatively short time.
“We are in conversations with Pakistan to keep the airline of communication open,” Mr Kahl said. The US now reportedly uses the country’s airspace to fly drones over Afghanistan.
Mr Kahl, however, added that the US did not have any agreements with any of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to host troops for counterterrorism efforts.
Acting Afghan foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi had earlier said Afghanistan would not become a base for attacks on other countries, even as the Taliban government has ruled out cooperation with the US to contain other extremist groups.
“We are able to tackle Isis-K independently,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen had told the Associated Press earlier this month.
President Joe Biden, after the August attack, warned the Isis-K of repercussions. “To Isis-K, we are not done with you yet,” he said, adding that “to those who wish America harm, we will hunt you down and you will pay the ultimate price.”