WASHINGTON — Afghanistan is at risk of becoming a safe haven for jihadists such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) as the U.S.-led troops withdraw from the country, warned a former senior CIA official.
“I would say if anything the future threat of an Afghan safe haven is maybe even greater than it was back before 9/11,” said Robert Grenier, the former CIA station head in Islamabad, during an event sponsored by the New America think tank.
Grenier’s comments echoed recent concerns expressed by the Pentagon about ISIS’ reach into Afghanistan.
“The way I would describe ISIL in Afghanistan is nascent at best. In fact, I would say more aspirational than anything else at this point,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday.
“The expansion of ISIL into the region is of great concern,” Marine Corps Maj. Bradlee Avots, a Pentagon spokesman, later told The Hill. “We remain committed to our objectives of ensuring that Afghanistan or Pakistan does not become a safe haven from which violent extremists can attack the U.S. or our allies.”
Lawmakers are also worried about ISIS’ expansion into Afghanistan.
“The threats are real, and the stakes are high. We cannot let Afghanistan become a sanctuary for al-Qaeda or ISIS,” added the Arizona senator.
ISIS presence in Afghanistan was reportedly confirmed by local officials less than a month after President Obama ended the U.S.-led combat mission there.
“Even as foreign manpower continues to bolster their armed forces, the Islamic State is expanding its operations into Afghanistan, taking advantage of the withdrawal of American troops from that country,” noted Breitbart News’ John Hayward.
President Obama ended the U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. An estimated 9,500 American troops remain in the country, training their Afghan counterparts and conducting narrower counterterrorism operations.
ISIS announced that it has established a province in Khorasan, a historic name for a region that covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the surrounding countries.
“The term ‘Khorasan’ refers to a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran,” reported The Long War Journal in May 2012, before ISIS’s rise to prominence. “Jihadists consider the Khorasan to be the area where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”
“Khorasan is an old name for Afghanistan, and is a word that carried mythical overtones for some Muslims after an ancient prophecy that black flags would once again fly in Khorasan before the end of the world,” reported BBC in January.