In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Oct. 26, Defense Department Undersecretary for Policy Colin Kahl said that ISIS-K and the al-Qaeda terrorist group both want to carry out international attacks, but currently don’t have the capability to do so at present.
“I think the intelligence community assesses that both ISIS-K and al-Qaeda have the intent to conduct external operations, including against the United States. But neither currently has the capability to do so,” Kahl said. “We could see ISIS-K generate that capability in somewhere between six or 12 months. I think the current assessments by the Intelligence Community is that al-Qaeda would take a year or two to reconstitute that capability.”
Kahl said the goal was to “be vigilant in disrupting” ISIS and al-Qaeda, so they can’t develop the capability to attack the United States.
Lt. Gen. James J. Mingus, the Joint Staff’s director for operations, said the timeline is “based on no U.S. or coalition intervention.”
“The goal would be to keep those time horizons where they’re at now, if not, even further,” Mingus told the committee.
The Taliban terrorist organization took full control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, after the U.S.-backed Afghan government fled the country.
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan civilians at Kabul airport on Aug. 26, amid the pullout of U.S. military troops. The terrorist group has since also claimed responsibility for other attacks in Afghanistan, including several bombings that have killed dozens of civilians.
“It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies,” Kahl told lawmakers. “So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K.”
Kahl said it’s still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight ISIS effectively in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.
“Their [The Taliban’s] ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” he said.
He estimated that ISIS has a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters. Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi of the new Taliban government said the threat from ISIS terrorists will be addressed and that Afghanistan wouldn’t become a base for attacks on other countries.
“We have seen signs … that the Taliban is wary about Afghanistan being a springboard for al-Qaeda external attacks, not because the Taliban are good guys, but because they fear international retribution if that were to occur,” Kahl said.
Kahl suggested that an al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan poses a complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. It was those ties to the Taliban that triggered the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, following al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban had harbored al-Qaeda leaders.
The United States has fought the Taliban and has conducted strikes on ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Reuters contributed to this report.