June 10, 2019 ISIS is regrouping following defeat in Syria, and U.S. officials say the terrorist organization is expanding operations in Afghanistan, where members of the group are plotting new attacks on Western targets—including the United States.
A U.S. intelligence official based in Afghanistan told the Associated Press that a recent wave of attacks carried out in Kabul were “practice runs” for even bigger attacks in Europe and the United States. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said:
“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.”
In December, President Trump drew criticism after announcing plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, declaring ISIS had been defeated in Syria. Trump later walked back the decision, after terrorism experts and even some republican leaders called the decision a grave error. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president, said it was “Fake News” to claim ISIS was defeated and said it was an “Obama-like mistake” to pull out troops. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton warned that ISIS remains a threat and continues to grow in other parts of the world” besides Syria and Iraq.
Renown terrorism expert, Bruce Hoffman warns that since being driven out of Syria, ISIS has invested a disproportionate amount of attention and resources in Afghanistan. The group’s expansion into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan poses unique yet familiar problems for U.S. forces. The rugged terrain and height concealment make it easy to stockpile weapons and equipment where terrorists can train recruits and expedite attacks. In the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks, the mountainous region provided a safe haven for members of al-Qaeda, including then leader Osama bin Laden. U.S. military forces struggled for years to capture and hold high-altitude outposts there, before all but surrendering the region to the Taliban.
The Taliban remains the larger and more imposing force in Afghanistan, and military and intelligence officials now see the Taliban as a potential ally against a similar threat. The Taliban and ISIS have fought each other on a number of occasions. Much like al-Qaeda, the Taliban differs from ISIS in ideology and tactics. The Taliban largely confines their attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces.
The Islamic State or Daesh, better known as ISIS originated as an splinter group of al Qaeda in Iraq. Since the terrorist organizations split over philosophical differences in 2013, ISIS has conducted or inspired more than 140 terrorist attacks in 29 countries other than Iraq and Syria, killing over 2100 at least 2,043 people and injured thousands more.
In in a video released in late April, ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi acknowledged defeat in the battle for Baghouz, the group’s last stronghold in Syria. He said a series of Sri Lanka Easter Day bombings that killed more than 250 people were an act of revenge following the caliphate’s loss of its last strip of territory in Syria. In the nearly 18 minute video, al-Baghdadi described the terrorist group’s fight now as a “battle of attrition” and “stretching the enemy,” and promised the group will seek revenge for the killing and imprisonment of its fighters.
“Jihad continues until judgment day,” he warned.