‘ISIS and affiliates could target crowds around Kabul airport’: US working with Taliban to establish alternate routes

The United States military is establishing “alternative routes” to Kabul airport due to a threat the terror group ISIS-K poses to the airport and its surroundings.

U.S President Joe Biden met with senior officials on Saturday to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism operations against the Islamic State offshoot.

“There is a strong possibility ISIS-K is trying to carry off an attack at the airport,” a US defense official told reporters.

The swelling crowds on the grounds around the Hamid Karzai International Airport can create a target for ISIS-K and other organizations, which may use car bombs or suicide bombers to attack, the second official said. Mortar attacks are another possible threat.

Two US defense officials described the military effort to establish “alternative routes” for people to get to Kabul airport and its access gates, with one saying these new routes will be available to Americans, third party nationals and qualified Afghans.

The Taliban are aware of the new effort and are coordinating with the US, one of the officials added.

ISIS-K is a self-proclaimed branch of the terror group that first emerged in Syria and Iraq. While the affiliates share an ideology and tactics, the depth of their relationship with regards to organization and command and control has never been entirely established.

The United States had identified 10 to 15 of their top operatives in Afghanistan. The group’s name comes from its terminology for the area that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan: “Khorasan.”

President Biden referred to the threat from Islamic State in an address to the nation on Friday, telling Americans that, “we’re also keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport, including from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan who were released from prison when the prisons were emptied.”

Biden noted that ISIS in Afghanistan have been the sworn enemy of the Taliban, with which US officials have been coordinating and communicating on a constant basis over access to the airport.

“I’ve said all along,” Biden added, “We’re going to retain a laser-focus on our counterterrorism mission, working in close coordination with our allies and our partners and all those who have an interest in ensuring stability in the region.”