White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC Nightly News on Aug. 19 that the government will continue in its efforts to oversee an evacuation at Kabal airport but is aware of the potential threats of terrorist attacks from groups such as ISIS Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K.
Sullivan added that getting Americans out of Afghanistan was “a risky operation” given questions about whether the Taliban would continue to allow the safe passage of people to the airport.
“One of the contingencies we are very focused on, laser focused on, is the potential for a terrorist attack by a group like ISIS-K, which of course is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, so we will keep working to minimize the risks and maximize the number of people on planes,” Sullivan said.
ISIS-K remains active three years after its inception, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington D.C. think tank, which said the group received support from the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
The ISIS affiliate is headquartered in the east of Afghanistan and has carried out several devastating attacks, mostly targeting the country’s minority Shiite Muslims.
CSIS said the group was responsible for nearly 100 attacks against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as roughly 250 clashes with the U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani security forces since January 2017.
In 2018, ISIS-K terrorists were thought to be behind an attack that killed at least 68 people, including dozens of young students taking university entrance exams in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul.
In May 2020, Peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S. government believed ISIS-K was also responsible for an attack on a maternity hospital in a majority Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Kabul which killed 24 people including newborn babies and mothers.
On the same day, the terrorist affiliate also targeted the funeral of a pro-government warlord killing 34 people, Khalilzad tweeted.
ISIS-K has not claimed responsibility for the maternity hospital attack.
U.S. officials say they are working around the clock to evacuate Americans and those who aided U.S. forces out of Kabul, but that the security situation on the ground is challenging.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the federal government and military cannot ensure safe passage to the Kabul airport after Taliban extremists took over the capital on Aug. 15.
“The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the U.S. Embassy wrote in a security alert issued on Wednesday, adding that, “the security situation in Kabul continues to change quickly, including at the airport.”
Sullivan told NBC it was unclear exactly how many Americans were still in the country, but the Biden administration is committed to getting any American who wants to leave and gets in contact with U.S. officials onto a plane.
“We right now have established contact with the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of people to the airport and that is working at the moment to get Americans and Afghans at risk to the airport,” he said. “That being said, we can’t count on anything.”
Sullivan added that Washington would “keep working to minimize the risks and maximize the number of people on planes.”