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U.S. officials fear return of ISIS-K, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

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KABUL: The U.S. defense officials fear that the growth of the Islamic State Khorasan and al Qaeda in months since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could result in both groups having the capacity to launch international attacks in a matter of months.

This comes amid previous warnings just weeks after the withdrawal. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during his Sept. 29 testimony on Capitol Hill that either terror group could reconstitute within six to 36 months.

A spokesperson from the Joint Chiefs office has said that timeline remains accurate, meaning that the groups could return as soon as three months from now.

“It’s a real possibility in the not too distant future, six, 12, 18, 24, 36 months, that kind of time frame, for reconstitution of al Qaeda or ISIS,” Milley said, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin agreeing with his assessment.

Roughly two weeks before their testimony, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Deputy CIA Director David Cohen warned that al Qaeda could obtain the means to attack the U.S. homeland within “one to two years,” while Dr. Colin Kahl, a DOD official, offered a similar opinion during his testimony on the Hill in late October.

Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS-K could generate the capability to strike internationally “in somewhere between six or 12 months, according to current assessments by the intelligence committee,” while al Qaeda’s rebuild “would take a year or two to reconstitute that capability.”

U.S. Central Command, when asked by the Washington Examiner if the previous time frames remained accurate, pointed to an interview Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM, did with the Associated Press last month.

“I believe al Qaeda and ISIS are recruiting both internally, and I think in fact, internationally,” he explained in the Dec. 9 interview, adding that al Qaeda, which he said has “an aspirational desire” to attack the U.S., has grown slightly in the time since the military departed.

McKenzie explained, “ISIS has certainly attacked the Taliban pretty violently across the entire country. So I think ISIS will be easy for the Taliban to respond to. I think al Qaeda is a far more difficult matter for them to resolve.” He noted that the Taliban are not monolithic in how they view their path forward.

The U.S. is hoping that the Taliban can take care of ISIS-K on their own but is concerned about the previous connections between the former and al Qaeda.

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