According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, there is “no question” that it will be “more difficult” to identify terror threats in the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Austin said that officials are doing all that they can to prevent the development of threats to the United States.
During a press conference in Qatar, Austin noted the challenge since the U.S. military and intelligence assets were withdrawn from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence.
“Well, there’s no question that it will be more difficult to identify and engage threats that emanate from the region, but we’re committed to making sure that threats are not allowed to develop…that could create significant challenges for us in the homeland,” Austin said.
Austin added that the U.S. “already has “robust capabilities in the region” but is looking to “improve them on a daily basis.”
“We’re going to continue to do that, he continued, commenting that the U.S. has “come a long way in the last 20 years in terms of the development of our capabilities.”
“There isn’t a scrap of earth that we can’t reach out and touch when we need to,” Austin said. “We’ve demonstrated that time, and time again, and again.”
“Our job is to make sure we stay vigilant and continue to develop capabilities,” He added.
Last week President Joe Biden said that the U.S. does not need to fight a ground war but instead has “over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorist targets without American boots on the ground.”
The Biden administration has already identified ISIS-K as posing an ongoing and “active” threat.
Even as they acknowledged that the Taliban is a “ruthless group from the past,” top Pentagon officials said it is “possible” that the U.S. will work with the Taliban against ISIS-K in Afghanistan.
When asked about the future of the Taliban, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley, replied: “I can tell you from personal experiences that this is a ruthless group from the past, and whether or not there is change remains to be seen.”
“And as far as our dealings with them at that airfield, or in the past year or so, in war, you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not necessarily what you want to do,” Milley continued.
When Milley was asked if it was possible that the U.S. and the Taliban might coordinate against ISIS-K he said: “It’s possible.”
Austin said that the Pentagon is doing “everything” it can to “remain focused on ISIS-K,” adding that it would be “at the time of our choosing, in the future, we will hold them accountable for what they’ve done.”
ISIS-K is responsible for the suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan citizens last month.
The White House said that intelligence and counterterrorism officials are “working around the clock” to “vet all Afghans” that were evacuated from Afghanistan before allowing them entry to the United States.
Evacuees with Special Immigrant Visas and Afghan allies were flown to countries in Europe and Asia that had agreed to “serve as transit hubs” before undergoing “robust security screening and flying to the U.S.”
The White House also said that all Afghans would be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in the U.S. and offered vaccines, further commenting that U.S. military bases are “ready” to take in SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans for medical screenings, health care services and other aid.
Officials say individuals who have been flagged in the vetting process will be sent to Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. Army base in Kosovo.