The number of “ISIS fighters in Afghanistan … is probably as high as it’s ever been in quite a while,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters during a Monday press conference announcing the end of the U.S.’s military mission in Afghanistan.
McKenzie estimated that 2,000 “hard core” ISIS fighters are currently active in Afghanistan, describing their threat as “very real” and “very concerning.” ISIS-K, the branch of the group that operates in Afghanistan, took responsibility for the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 American soldiers and numerous Afghans.
“Of course, many of those came from the prisons that were opened a few days ago,” McKenzie added. When the Taliban took control of Bagram Air Force Base on Aug. 15, the group released up to 5,000 prisoners, including ISIS-K fighters.
President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes against the group in response to the attack. One airstrike killed an ISIS-K “planner,” Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban announced Friday, but an airstrike on Sunday reportedly killed at least ten Afghan civilians. Spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Department of Defense is “not in a position to dispute” the reports of civilian casualties. (RELATED: Pentagon Confirms: Two ‘High Profile’ ISIS Targets Killed In Drone Strike, One More Wounded)
Despite the reprisals, ISIS “remain[s] a very lethal force,” McKenzie said.
“That’s going to be a challenge for the Taliban,” he added.
ISIS first emerged in 2014, conquering vast swathes of land in Iraq and Syria. After then-President Barack Obama promised airstrikes against the group, a spokesman for the terrorist group promised to “raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”
ISIS has successfully conducted terrorist attacks across Europe and Asia. ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris, France on Nov. 13, 2015 in a pair of coordinated attacks. The group also launched multiple attacks in Bangladesh.