WASHINGTON—The highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces, while testifying before lawmakers on Wednesday, linked a Taliban faction in Afghanistan to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
During a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked to comment on ISIS in Afghanistan.
“The TTP is notably that splinter group of the Taliban who has rebranded themselves to the ISIL ideology,” responded the chairman.
Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The National Counterterrorism Center lists the expulsion of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as one of many TTP-stated objectives.
Gen. Dempsey said that the growth of an ISIS-affiliated organization in Afghanistan would “initially pose a threat to the government of Afghanistan and could over time pose a threat to [the U.S. military there].”
As of mid-January, nearly 10,000 U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan.
Gen. John Campbell, the top commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, in January warned that younger Afghan Taliban members may seek to join ISIS.
Members of the ISIS jihadist group, which controls swaths of Iraq and Syria, are reportedly already operating in Afghanistan.
Former TTP members in southern Afghanistan, near the birthplace of the Taliban, have pledged loyalty to ISIS.
The Pentagon has described the ISIS presence in Afghanistan as “nascent at best” and “aspirational.”
According to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, President Obama is considering slowing down the pace of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan where the U.S. continues to fight its longest war. The Afghanistan conflict started more than 13 years ago on October 7, 2001.
At least 2,214 U.S. military soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The U.S. has spent billions on reconstruction efforts including training the Afghan forces.
“TTP since 2008 has repeatedly publicly threatened to attack the US homeland, and a TTP spokesman claimed responsibility for the failed vehicle-bomb attack in Times Square, New York City, on 1 May 2010,” notes the National Counterterrorism Center.
“In June 2011, a spokesman vowed to attack the United States and Europe in revenge for the death of Usama Bin Ladin,” it adds. “A TTP leader in April 2012 endorsed external operations by the group and threatened attacks in the United Kingdom for its involvement in Afghanistan.”