Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie
Gen Kenneth F. McKenzie

WASHINGTON: The militant Islamic State group (IS) has become a more enduring threat than Al Qaeda after the US withdrawal from Afghanis­tan, Gen Kenneth Frank McKenzie, former head of the US Central Command, said in television interviews last week.

Gen Erik Kurilla, the curr­ent Centcom chief, had voiced similar apprehensions in a rec­ent interview, saying that the IS could carry out an “external operation” against the United States in less than six months.

Gen McKenzie, who retired in April last year, headed Cen­t­com — which is responsible for operations in Middle East, Cen­tral Asia and parts of South Asia — during the withdrawal. His command included both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Asked how he viewed Gen Kurilla’s warning of an IS att­ack within “six months”, McKenzie said he believed the IS had always wanted to attack Americans on their soil.

“It’s a core tenet, a core belief of theirs,” he added. “As a result of our withdrawal from Afgha­n­­istan, it is now far more difficult for us to pursue those obj­ectives (fighting terrorists).”

Gen McKenzie says he regrets US evacuation from Afghanistan, terms it ‘wrong decision’

As a general who oversaw the Afghan withdrawal, Gen McKenzie was invited by television channels to share his views with the American public.

In his interviews to Fox News and CBS, Gen McKenzie said Al Qaeda had weakened since the Aug 2021 pullout, but “I do believe that ISIS, particularly in Afghanistan, is taking advantage of the vast ungoverned spaces that are there. And I believe they are in fact gathering strength”.

The former Centcom chief warned that history would see the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a fatal flaw that allowed militants to reg­ain a foothold in the country.

“I believe history is going to view the decision to come out of Afghanistan in the way that we did and the manner that we were directed to come out as a fatal flaw,” he told Fox News on the 22nd anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks in the United States.

Gen McKenzie said he had many regrets about the US evacuation from Afghanistan. “I have a lot of regrets about how it ended. I have a regret with the basic decision, which I think was the wrong decision,” he said.

The general had said in March last year that he would regret the withdrawal for the rest of his life — a decision that allowed the Taliban to quickly seize control of Afghanistan as Americans and refugees fled for safety.

Biden’s message

Separately, President Joe Biden sent a message on the 9/11 anniversary, urging the international community to stay together against the “rising tide of hatred and extremism and political violence” at home and abroad.

On Sept 11, 2001, terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 others in the worst attack on US soil in history.

A UN report discussed at a Security Council meeting in New York last month underlined the link between IS and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), adding that TTP and other groups affiliated with the Taliban were providing Nato-calibre weapons to IS.

The report noted that IS and its affiliates, such as TTP, continue to pose a serious threat in conflict zones and neighbouring countries. While the ban­ned TTP has a history of att­acking targets inside Pakistan, IS has also carried out attacks inside Pakistan recently, inc­luding on a JUI-F convention in July that killed 40 people.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has recently said that terror groups are now using equipment left behind by US forces to attack targets inside Pakistan.

But White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby disagreed with the suggestion that the United States had left behind weapons and equipment worth US$7 billion in Afghanistan and militant groups were now using those against Pakistan.

“There was no equipment left behind by American forces. There was a small amount of equipment and some aircraft at the airport when we finished our evacuation efforts, but they were all rendered unusable as we left,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2023

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