The enemy of my enemy: Biden admin weighs working with the Taliban to combat ISIS-K

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Facing a increasing world violent threat, Biden management officials are debating expanding practice pinch nan Taliban authorities successful Kabul to thief way ISIS-K, nan branch of nan violent group progressive successful Afghanistan, according to 2 sources acquainted pinch nan matter and a erstwhile U.S. official.

The management and different Western governments are scrambling to support up pinch nan mounting threat ISIS-K poses. Before this year, U.S. and different Western officials believed ISIS-K had nan intent but not nan expertise to orchestrate attacks abroad. But that position changed pinch the horrific attack astatine Moscow’s Crocus City Hall performance venue connected March 22, which killed 130 group and injured hundreds more. It was nan deadliest violent onslaught successful Europe since 2004. ISIS-K besides launched a awesome onslaught successful Iran this twelvemonth that killed dozens, and different land were disrupted successful Europe.

But the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and declining Western power successful Africa person weakened Washington’s capacity to stitchery intelligence connected nan various offshoots of ISIS.

“We person a very, very constricted expertise to spot what they’re doing,” said a erstwhile subject serviceman pinch acquisition successful nan region.

As a result, nan management is weighing sharing much accusation pinch nan Taliban astir nan Khorasan branch of ISIS, often referred to arsenic ISIS-K.

New recruits marching while holding armsNewly recruited unit subordinate Taliban information forces during their graduation ceremonial successful Herat, Afghanistan, successful February 2023. Mohsen Karimi / AFP via Getty Images file

The Taliban sees ISIS-K arsenic a threat to its norm and has launched a bid of attacks connected nan group. But location is heavy distrust betwixt nan West and nan Taliban aft a 20-year-long warfare that pitted U.S.-led forces against nan Afghan militants, who seized powerfulness arsenic American troops withdrew successful August 2021. 

“There’s an soul statement astir whether to effort to activity much pinch nan Taliban,” a erstwhile elder charismatic said. Some members of Congress besides favour nan approach, though they reason nan U.S. would person to request concessions from nan Taliban successful return, including ensuring much authorities for Afghan women.

Some officials favour reopening nan U.S. Embassy to let for much practice betwixt U.S. intelligence agencies and nan Taliban regime, though Washington has yet to admit nan Taliban activity arsenic nan country’s ineligible government.

A spokesperson for nan White House National Security Council said that location were nary plans astatine nan infinitesimal to reopen nan embassy but that nan U.S. does talk to nan Taliban.

“While nan United States has nary volition of reopening an embassy successful Afghanistan astatine this time, we do prosecute pragmatically pinch a wide assortment of Afghans, including nan Taliban, done our diplomats based successful Doha,” nan spokesperson said successful an email.

The spokesperson added that “the United States is acutely focused connected coercion and complete nan sky threats, moving some unilaterally and pinch our partners to disrupt and degrade ISIS-K and different terrorism-related threats astir nan world.”

A occurrence rages wrong nan buildingA occurrence wrong nan Crocus City Hall successful Krasnogorsk successful Russia's Moscow Oblast connected March 22.Getty Images file

It’s unclear really overmuch location is to summation from moreover a constricted business pinch nan Afghan Taliban, and immoderate officials reason nan move, fearing nan Taliban would usage nan practice arsenic a measurement to push Washington to admit its authority and tolerate its quality authorities abuses.

A study group of erstwhile elder officials, diplomats and location experts astatine nan U.S. Institute for Peace deliberation vessel issued a report successful May calling for stepping up intelligence practice pinch nan Taliban to antagonistic ISIS-K.

“Sharing intelligence connected shared concerns specified arsenic ISIS-K is nan applicable point to do, and our group was mostly supportive of ongoing U.S. authorities efforts to support specified channels pinch nan Taliban,” said Asfandyar Mir, a elder master connected counterterrorism astatine nan U.S. Institute for Peace. “We deliberation those tin and should beryllium upgraded.”

U.S. intelligence agencies declined to comment.

After nan chaotic exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan astir 3 years ago, nan Biden management said it would clasp an “over nan horizon” expertise to target terrorists successful nan state if necessary. Since then, it has conducted only 1 specified cognition successful Afghanistan, a drone onslaught that killed Osama bin Laden’s successor arsenic nan caput ofQaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was hiding astatine a safe location successful Kabul.

Manhunts by drone aliases different intends require precise, timely intelligence, which is little available without U.S. teams connected nan crushed and capable surveillance successful nan area, erstwhile officials, subject officers and experts said.

U.S. surveillance resources person been shifted to nan Israel-Hamas conflict successful Gaza, nan warfare successful Ukraine and nan Navy’s effort to take sides commercialized shipping successful nan Red Sea from attacks by Houthi forces successful Yemen, pinch targets successful Afghanistan and Pakistan arsenic little of a priority. 

U.S. intelligence gathering successful Africa has besides suffered a setback.

In a bid of coups successful Niger and different states successful nan Sahel, anti-Western juntas person expelled nan U.S. and French forces that had tracked ISIS for years.

Extremist groups successful Africa do not look to person nan expertise to shape violent attacks abroad, but if nan existent trajectory continues, that could change, experts said.

The Biden management besides has imposed much restrictions connected decision-making for immoderate unilateral subject strikes against violent targets abroad. The study from nan U.S. Institute of Peace recommended easing those rules without afloat restoring nan leeway fixed commanders during nan warfare successful Afghanistan.

The erstwhile subject serviceman said nan restrictions hamper efforts to conflict ISIS-K, arsenic good arsenic what nan serviceman called nan Biden administration’s reluctance to bid subject strikes successful Afghanistan.

“There’s an aversion to action,” nan serviceman said.

But nan National Security Council spokesperson said that nan management was wished to spell aft violent threats anyplace successful nan world and that President Joe Biden has ordered operations during his tenure that successfully targeted 3 cardinal violent figures.

In summation to nan onslaught that killed Zawahiri, Biden approved an cognition successful Syria against nan then-leader of ISIS, Hajji Abdullah, and an cognition successful Somalia that resulted successful nan decease of Bilal al-Sudani, a elder operative for ISIS’ world network.

“As President Biden has made clear, we are committed to uncovering and eliminating violent threats to nan United States and to nan American people, wherever they are hiding and nary matter really remote,” nan spokesperson said.

A elder management charismatic said that arsenic a consequence of those “unprecedented” operations, “there has not been a azygous successful coercion onslaught connected nan homeland connected our watch.”

‘This menace’

In Afghanistan, nan Taliban opportunity that they person conducted a bid of operations against ISIS-K successful eastbound provinces and killed galore militants but that nan group remains a threat.

“I deliberation successful immoderate places, specified arsenic successful eastbound Afghanistan, including Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, nan Islamic State group and their supporters were ruthlessly treated, but it helped america get free of this menace,” a personnel of nan Taliban’s information services told NBC News. 

Another elder Taliban information charismatic said he precocious visited nan country’s northbound to stitchery accusation astir ISIS and recovered that it had a mini but important presence. The ISIS-K militants move betwixt Syria and Afghanistan via Iran, nan charismatic added.

Taliban officials declined remark connected accusation sharing pinch nan U.S. aliases U.S. friends astir ISIS-K. 

According to a U.N. sanctions monitoring panel, nan Taliban’s “efforts against ISIL-K [ISIS-K] look to beryllium much focused connected nan soul threat posed to them than nan outer operations of nan group.”

The caput of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Michael Kurilla, told lawmakers successful March “that unit has been intermittent and insufficient” by nan Taliban and that nan “lack of sustained unit allowed ISIS-K to regenerate and harden their networks, creating aggregate redundant nodes that direct, enable, and inspire.”

Edmund Fitton-Brown, a erstwhile British diplomat and now a elder advisor to nan Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit organization, said he was skeptical that nan Taliban could beryllium a reliable partner that would thief nan West forestall violent attacks by ISIS-K.

Wounded group get astatine nan infirmary to beryllium treatedPeople get astatine a infirmary aft 2 blasts extracurricular nan airdrome successful Kabul connected Aug. 26, 2021.Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images file

“I don’t deliberation this is simply a counterterrorism narration that has progressed very far, but I don’t deliberation it’s been abandoned,” he said.

The Taliban says it has kept its committedness nether an statement signed during President Donald Trump’s tenure that Afghanistan will not beryllium utilized arsenic a launching pad for violent attacks abroad. But overseas governments and experts opportunity a bid of attacks, including successful Pakistan and Turkey, arsenic good arsenic nan large-scale attacks successful Iran and Russia, tin beryllium traced to ISIS-K.

In nan last chaotic days of nan U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, American commanders worked pinch nan Taliban to effort to support bid astir nan Kabul airdrome and to pre-empt imaginable attacks by ISIS-K aliases different extremists. But nan practice grounded to avert a deadly bombing by ISIS militants astatine an airdrome entrance, which killed 13 U.S. troops and astir 170 Afghan civilians.

Dan De Luce

Dan De Luce is a newsman for nan NBC News Investigative Unit. 

Mushtaq Yusufzai

Mushtaq Yusufzai is simply a journalist based successful Peshawar, Pakistan.

Tom Winter

Tom Winter is simply a New York-based analogous covering crime, courts, coercion and financial fraud connected nan East Coast for nan NBC News Investigative Unit.


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