As the ISIS security threat is emerging at Kabul's international airport, the United States military is looking for alternative routes to the airport. US defense officials fear that the Islamic State affiliate ISIS Khorasan may be trying to target American citizens near the evacuation center in Afghanistan.
"There is a strong possibility ISIS-K is trying to carry off an attack at the airport," a US defense official told CNN. A senior diplomat in Kabul said they are aware of a credible but not immediate threat by Islamic State against Americans at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The US Embassy in Afghanistan Advised Citizens to Avoid Traveling to the Kabul Airport
"Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US government representative to do so," the embassy warned on Saturday.
Officials also told the NBC News that the military is attempting to find a way to usher US citizens safely to the airport, including methods such as "having small groups of Americans meet at locations where they can be safely brought to the airport in small groups."
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is a self-proclaimed branch of the terror group that first emerged in Syria and Iraq. Known as Islamic State in the Khorasan (IS-K or ISIS-K), the Afghan ISIL branch has been on the back foot since suffering heavy losses in 2019 but it retains the ability to carry out devastating attacks in urban areas, including Kabul, reported AL Jazeera.
US intelligence officials previously told CNN the ISIS-K membership includes "a small number of veteran jihadists from Syria and other foreign terrorist fighters," saying that the US had identified 10 to 15 of their top operatives in Afghanistan.
Biden Mentioned ISIS-K During His Remarks on Friday
President Biden said in his speech regarding Afghanistan on Friday the US was closely watching ISIS and other insurgent groups that could pose threats to the Kabul airport and evacuation efforts.
"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. And because they are, by the way, to make everybody understand, that the ISIS in Afghanistan are the â have been the sworn enemy of the Taliban," the president said in his address to the nation.
What About Other Terrorist Groups?
The Pentagon has long assessed that "hundreds" of al Qaeda fighters remain in Afghanistan. That directly contradicts a claim by President Biden on Friday that al Qaeda is "gone" from Afghanistan, reported Fox News. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby later said in a news conference that al Qaeda does in fact have a "presence." One official told Fox News, "There are other terrorist groups we are concerned about as well."
Various media reports say that the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are believed to have been among the thousands of prisoners freed from the Parwan Detention Facility when the Taliban entered Kabul over the weekend.