After U.S. forces reduced their role in Afghanistan and left the country to fall under Taliban control, U.S. intelligence officials predicted that ISIS would likely regain much of its former strength and global influence, according to a newly declassified report. Many of the judgments in the 2020 report seem prescient today, analysts said, especially as the group resurfaced in Afghanistan following President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces last year.
ISIS no longer controls large swaths of territory or launches attacks in the United States as it did several years ago, according to the international English-language newspaper Arab Weekly, which asserted that the group is slowly rebuilding some key capabilities in Iraq and Syria and increasingly fighting local governments in places including Afghanistan, where an offshoot of the ruling Taliban is fighting after the United States withdrawal. The report, originally published in a classified form, says that “if the United States and our partners withdraw from areas where ISIS is active, the group’s trajectory will increasingly depend on the will of local governments and their ability to fill the resulting security voids.” The report was released in May 2020, months after the Trump administration reached an agreement with American officials to withdraw troops, citing Ayman Al-Zawahiri as evidence that America’s national security officials have been able to fight al-Qaeda and in Afghanistan even after the withdrawal, and U.S. Special Forces killed an ISIS leader in a raid in February in northwestern Syria.
Speaking at the National Intelligence and National Security Summit outside Washington, Christine Abizaid said analysts have recently witnessed a growth in ISIS branches around the world, particularly in Africa. She noted that Afghanistan is a particularly interesting story, as is the location of the ISIS branch and how we continue to worry about it. Some outside analysts say that the apparent presence of al-Zawahiri in downtown Kabul indicates that extremist groups are more comfortable working in Afghanistan – and that it will be difficult to counter the Islamic State as it grows across the country. Terrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, May 2020 report said it was “very clear and frank,” and said, “It’s a very different operation against ISIS in the isolated mountain strongholds or the deep valleys of Afghanistan.. I think the advantages that enabled us to eliminate al-Zawahiri with skill are absent outside Kabul.”