Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Biden admin weighs working with the Taliban to combat ISIS-K

By 37ci3 Jul4,2024

Faced with a growing global terror threat, Biden administration officials are discussing expanding cooperation with the Taliban regime in Kabul to help track down ISIS-K, an affiliate of the terrorist group operating in Afghanistan, according to two sources familiar with the matter and a former US official. .

The administration and other Western governments are scrambling to keep up with the growing threat posed by ISIS-K. Before this year, U.S. and other Western officials believed that ISIS-K intended to carry out attacks abroad, but was unable to do so. But this opinion has changed terrible attack On March 22, 130 people died and hundreds were injured in the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Moscow. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since 2004. ISIS-K also carried out a major attack this year in Iran that killed dozens, and other plots were foiled in Europe.

But Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the decline of Western influence in Africa has weakened Washington’s ability to gather intelligence on the various branches of ISIS.

“We have very, very limited ability to see what they’re doing,” said a former military officer with experience in the region.

As a result, the administration is considering sharing more information with the Taliban about ISIS’s Khorasan branch.

New recruits are marching with weapons
New recruits join Taliban security forces during a graduation ceremony in February 2023 in Herat, Afghanistan. Mohsen Karimi / AFP via Getty Images file

The Taliban It sees ISIS-K as a threat to its rule and is organizing a series of attacks against the group. But there is deep mistrust between the West and the Taliban, which led US-led forces against Afghan militants after a 20-year war and took power when American troops withdrew in August 2021.

“There are internal discussions about whether to try to work more with the Taliban,” said a former senior official. Some members of Congress also support this approach, although they argue that the US would have to demand concessions from the Taliban in return, including greater rights for Afghan women.

Some officials favor reopening the US embassy to allow for greater cooperation between US intelligence agencies and the Taliban regime, although Washington has yet to recognize the Taliban leadership as the country’s legitimate government.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said there are currently no plans to reopen the embassy, ​​but the US is talking to the Taliban.

“While the United States does not currently intend to reopen its embassy in Afghanistan, we are engaging pragmatically with various Afghans, including the Taliban, through our diplomats based in Doha,” the spokesman said.

“The United States is focused on terrorism and horizon threats, working both unilaterally and with our partners to disrupt and degrade ISIS-K and other terrorism-related threats around the world,” the spokesman added.

A fire breaks out inside the building
On March 22, a fire broke out in the Crocus City Hall building in Krasnogorsk, Moscow Region, Russia.Getty Images file

Even a limited partnership with the Afghan Taliban is unclear, and some officials oppose the move, fearing that the Taliban will use the cooperation to push Washington to recognize its authority and tolerate human rights abuses.

A research team of former senior officials, diplomats and regional experts at the US Institute of Peace think tank reported In May, he called for increased intelligence cooperation with the Taliban to fight ISIS-K.

“Sharing intelligence on common concerns like ISIS-K is practical, and our group has generally supported the US government’s ongoing efforts to maintain such channels with the Taliban,” said Asfandyar Mir, the US’s top counterterrorism expert. Institute of Peace. “We think they can and should be improved.”

US intelligence agencies declined to comment.

After the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan nearly three years ago, the Biden administration said it would keep the capability “on the horizon” to target terrorists in the country if necessary. Since then, it has carried out only one such operation in Afghanistan, a drone strike that killed Osama bin Laden’s successor as al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was holed up in a safe house in Kabul.

Manhunts by drone or other means require accurate, timely intelligence, which cannot be achieved without U.S. teams on the ground and sufficient surveillance in the area, former officials, military officers and experts said.

U.S. surveillance resources have been focused on the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, the war in Ukraine, and the Navy’s efforts to protect merchant ships in the Red Sea from attacks by Houthi forces in Yemen. .

US intelligence gathering in Africa has also failed.

A number of Coups in Niger and other states in the Sahelthe anti-Western juntas expelled the US and French forces that had been tracking ISIS for years.

Extremist groups in Africa lack the ability to carry out terrorist attacks abroad, experts say, but that could change if the current trajectory continues.

The Biden administration has also placed more restrictions on decision-making for any unilateral military strikes against foreign terrorist targets. A report by the US Institute of Peace recommends loosening these rules without fully restoring the freedom given to commanders during the war in Afghanistan.

The former soldier said the restrictions were hindering efforts to fight ISIS-K, as well as the officer cited the Biden administration’s reluctance to order military strikes in Afghanistan.

“There is an aversion to the movement,” said the officer.

But a National Security Council spokesman said the administration is committed to going after terrorist threats anywhere in the world and that President Joe Biden has ordered operations that have successfully targeted three major terrorists during his tenure.

In addition to the strike that killed Zawahiri, Biden approved an operation in Syria against then-ISIS leader Haji Abdullah and an operation in Somalia that killed Bilal al-Sudani, a senior operative in the ISIS global network. .

“As President Biden has made clear, we are committed to finding and eliminating terrorist threats against the United States and the American people, no matter where they hide or how far they may be,” the spokesman said.

A high-ranking official of the administration said that as a result of these “unprecedented” operations, “there has not been a single successful terrorist attack against the motherland under our watch.”

‘This is a threat’

In Afghanistan, the Taliban say they have carried out a series of operations against ISIS-K in the eastern provinces and killed many militants, but the group remains a threat.

“I think the people of the Islamic State and their supporters have been brutally treated in eastern Afghanistan, including Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, but it has helped us get rid of this threat,” a member of the Taliban’s security service told NBC. News.

Another senior Taliban security official said he recently traveled to the north of the country to gather intelligence on ISIS and found it had a small but significant presence. The official added that ISIS-K militants are moving between Syria and Afghanistan through Iran.

Taliban officials declined to comment on sharing information about ISIS-K with the US or US allies.

According to the UN sanctions monitoring panel, the Taliban’s efforts against ISIS-K [ISIS-K] It seems that they are more focused on the internal threat against themselves than the external operations of the group.”

General Michael Kurilla, the head of US Central Command, told lawmakers in March that “pressure from the Taliban has been intermittent and insufficient” and that “the lack of sustained pressure has allowed ISIS-K to rebuild and consolidate its networks, creating a large number of redundancies.” nodes that guide, enable and inspire”.

Edmund Fitton-Brown, a former British diplomat and now senior adviser to the nonprofit Countering Extremism Project, said he doubts the Taliban can be a reliable partner to help the West prevent terrorist attacks by ISIS-K.

The wounded come to the hospital for treatment
On August 26, 2021, people came to the hospital after two explosions occurred in front of the Kabul airport.Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images file

“I don’t think it’s an anti-terrorist relationship that’s gone too far, but I don’t think it’s been abandoned,” he said.

The Taliban says it is sticking to an agreement signed under President Donald Trump that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks abroad. But foreign governments and experts say a series of attacks, including in Pakistan and Turkey, and large-scale attacks in Iran and Russia may be attributed to ISIS-K.

In the final chaotic days of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, American commanders worked with the Taliban to maintain order around Kabul airport and prevent possible attacks by ISIS-K or other extremists. But the cooperation failed to prevent a deadly bombing by ISIS militants at the entrance to the airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and nearly 170 Afghan civilians.

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