WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Daesh in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the United States in as little as six months, and has the intention to do so, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Tuesday.
The remarks by Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, are the latest reminder that Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the United States even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August.
The Taliban, which won the war, are enemies of Daesh and have seen its attempts to impose law and order after the U.S. pullout thwarted by suicide bombings and other attacks claimed by Daesh.
They include bombings targeting the minority Shia Muslims and even a Daesh beheading of a member of a Taliban militia force in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl said it was still unclear whether the Taliban have the ability to fight Daesh effectively following the U.S. withdrawal in August.
“It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban are highly motivated to go after ISIS-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Kahl said, using an acronym for Daesh in Afghanistan.
Kahl estimated Daesh had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters. Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi of the new Taliban government has said the threat from Daesh militants will be addressed. He also said Afghanistan would not become a base for attacks on other countries.
Kahl suggested Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan posed a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. It was those ties that triggered the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 following al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban had harbored Al-Qaeda leaders.
Kahl said it could take Al-Qaeda “a year or two” to regenerate the capability to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan against the United States.
Democratic President Joe Biden, whose supervision of the chaotic end to the war last summer has damaged his approval ratings, has said the United States will continue to be vigilant against threats emanating from Afghanistan by carrying out intelligence-gathering operations in the country that would identify threats from groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Kahl said the goal was to disrupt those groups so that Daesh and Al-Qaeda don’t become capable of striking the United States.
“We need to be vigilant in disrupting that,” he said.
Still, U.S. officials privately warn that identifying and disrupting groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh is extremely difficult without any troops in the country. Drones capable of striking Daesh and Al-Qaeda targets are being flown in from the Persian Gulf.
Kahl said the United States did not yet have any agreement with countries neighboring Afghanistan to host troops for counterterrorism efforts.