ISIS has lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, but in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, the group is expanding its footprint, recruiting new fighters, and plotting attacks on the United States and other Western countries, according to US and Afghan security officials. Nearly two decades after the US-led invasion, the extremist group is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities and its strategy of targeting civilians, both in Afghanistan and abroad, the AP reports. Concerns run so deep that many have come to see the Taliban, which has also clashed with ISIS, as a potential partner in containing it. A US intelligence official based in Afghanistan says a recent wave of attacks in the capital, Kabul, is "practice runs" for even bigger attacks in Europe and the US.
"This group is the most near-term threat to our homelands from Afghanistan," the official tells the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity to preserve his operational security. Their "core mandate is: You will conduct external attacks" in the US and Europe. "That is their goal. It's just a matter of time," he says. "It is very scary." He says ISIS fighters captured in Afghanistan have been found to be in contact with fellow militants in other countries. Authorities have already made at least eight arrests in the United States linked to the IS affiliate in Afghanistan. "One of the hopes of a negotiated settlement is that it will bring the Taliban into the government and into the fight" against ISIS, the official says. "They know the mountains, they know the terrain. It's their territory."
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