President Joe Biden on Friday said the U.S. military is keeping watch on possible terrorist threats near the Kabul airport, including ISIS, coming after a number of high-profile prison releases occurred as the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
“We are keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport including ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan that were released from prison,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday. “ISIS in Afghanistan have been the sworn enemy of the Taliban,” he added.
ISIS has previously battled with the Taliban in remote areas inside Afghanistan, starting in 2015 when ISIS formed a splinter group in Khorasan province. Fighting between the groups broke out several years ago in Zabul province, and more battles erupted in 2017.
Biden’s comment about ISIS being an enemy of the Taliban is an apparent attempt to allay fears that the Taliban—itself a designated terrorist group—won’t turn on Americans or Afghans who are trying to evacuate.
However, other than ISIS terrorists, members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network that was largely blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, were also reportedly released from Afghan prisons. Biden made no mention of al-Qaeda other than to say that the 20-year-long mission in Afghanistan was ultimately successful in taking out the group’s former leader Osama bin Laden.
Last August, ISIS terrorists stormed a prison in Jalalabad, located in eastern Afghanistan, leaving at least 39 people dead.
“The aim of this attack was to rescue all Daesh members inside the prison, and unfortunately that included five or six senior Daesh people,” one official told The Associated Press last year, referring to a derogatory Arabic term for ISIS. Some prisoners that escaped, he said, included one of the group’s leaders.
Some ISIS members have reportedly considered members of the Taliban “apostates” because of their willingness to negotiate with the United States and their failure to apply Shariah law with enough zeal.
This week, ISIS released a statement via its weekly Al-Naba publication accusing the Taliban of collaborating with the United States and Western forces, reported WION.
According to the editorial, “During the Taliban’s march into Kabul, we saw how the American troops and the Taliban coordinated directly, and how the evacuation procedures for thousands of Crusaders and spies continued amid strong trust between the two sides.”
Also in Friday’s speech, Biden sought to defend his administration’s handling of the pullout and ensuing chaos at the Kabul airport amid reports that 15,000 Americans remain in the country, amid a torrent of criticism at home and abroad. Any American who is trying to leave Afghanistan, he said, will be provided assistance.
A day earlier, Amnesty International said the Taliban, members of which are Sunni Muslims, brutally tortured and killed nine men of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority ethnic group after taking Ghazni province.