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ISIS-K could be able to launch attacks out of Afghanistan within a year, defense official says

The terrorist group ISIS-K could generate the capability to conduct attacks outside of Afghanistan in just 6 to 12 months, according to the Defense Department's under secretary for policy.

During testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said both ISIS-K and al Qaeda want to conduct external attacks but lack the capability. 

"We could see ISIS-K generate that capability somewhere between 6 to 12 months. I think the current assessments by the intelligence community is that al Qaeda would take a year or two," Kahl said. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told the committee in September that there was a real possibility ISIS-K or al Qaeda could rebuild within 6 to 36 months. According to a U.S. official at the time, this meant the capability to reconstitute, not necessarily the capability to attack the U.S. 

The timeline Kahl suggested in the hearing Tuesday for the ability to conduct attacks on the homeland is the shortest senior officials at the Pentagon have suggested in testimony since the fall of Kabul in August.

Lieutenant General  James J. Mingus, the Joint Staff director for operations, testified alongside Kahl and blunted the assessment by pointing out that the timeline of 6 to 12 months is if the U.S. and allies don't intervene. 

"Those estimates from the intel community — that's based on no U.S. or coalition intervention," Mingus said. "The goal would be to keep those time horizons where they are now, if not even further."

Senators throughout the testimony raised the concern that U.S. intelligence assessments will be weaker without American forces on the ground. Both Kahl and Mingus acknowledged intelligence-gathering from "over the horizon," or out-of-country, is more difficult without forces there, but said it's not impossible. 

Kahl said the Defense Department is conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in Afghanistan every day and is sharing intelligence with allies to provide updated intelligence assessments. 

"We will get after this challenge and we will try to grow our capability to get after it," Kahl said. 

ISIS-K is responsible for the terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan civilians on August 26 at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport during the American evacuation effort. 

Kahl said Tuesday that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies,  so the Taliban is motivated to stymie ISIS-K's efforts. Al Qaeda is more complicated since the Taliban has a relationship with parts of al Qaeda. 

"The Taliban is weary about Afghanistan being a springboard for al Qaeda external attacks, not because the Taliban are good guys, but because they fear international retribution if that were to occur," Kahl said. 

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