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FLASH ALERT: MORE ATTACKS BY ISLAMIC STATE KHORASAN HIGHLY LIKELY NEAR HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL

Team: CENTCOM

Week of: Monday, August 22, 2021


Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Afghanistan, the United States, and other countries with personnel and citizens in Afghanistan due to the increased threat by competing terrorist organizations, namely the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and the Taliban as they vie for control. The current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that ISIS-K will continue to threaten forces protecting the Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), citizens of western countries, and Afghan asylees waiting to be evacuated. The current CTG threat matrix also indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of additional attacks as ISIS-K exploits weak security outside the airport. These assessments are based on warnings from United States (US), British, and Australian intelligence services of imminent attacks in the coming hours, days, and weeks.[2] These assessments are also based on warnings from US CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie stating that ISIS-K is highly motivated to inflict further violence and that attacks generally follow a pattern of multiple attacks within the course of several days.[3] The US military conducted an over-the-horizon unmanned airstrike against an ISIS-K planner in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, the initial indications are that the target was killed and there are no known civilian casualties.[4] Given this airstrike on ISIS-K, there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of a retaliatory attack from ISIS-K.


Due to the nature of this threat at the Kabul HKIA airport, CTG as well as multiple countries advise to avoid traveling to the airport, to avoid airport gates and to seek a safe location until advised to do otherwise. This recommendation is based on the immediate threat to evacuation plans, therefore making it extremely unsafe for countries to carry out evacuation missions. While it is unclear whether these will be halted, it is highly unlikely given US military capabilities to detect rockets and other threats against aircraft. This recommendation is also based on imminent threats within airport crowds. Though it is possible ISIS-K will attack outside the airport, those traveling to airports should continue to seek shelter elsewhere until the threats are largely diffused.


The “specific credible threats” mentioned by Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby are unknown but these attacks are likely to be multi-faceted to increase the number of casualties, with suicide bombers and armed assailants. This is highly likely to be the preferred attack method to integrate with the airport crowds. Though the Taliban and ISIS-K are not allies, it is possible that Taliban members could turn a blind eye to ISIS-K individuals entering the gates with bombs. This assessment stems from the idea that within the Taliban, more individual members seem to be sympathetic to ISIS-K versus Taliban leadership given they likely disagree with the Taliban’s agreement with the United States in 2020. It is unclear how likely this possibility is at this time. However, given the suicide bombers on August 26 were able to make it through multiple Taliban checkpoints, it cannot be discounted. Furthermore, various Islamic State branches are known to use explosive drones and ISIS-K may use them to strike inside the airport because they can evade radar, fly quickly, and carry increasingly heavy explosive payloads.[5]


Although ISIS does not frequently use women for suicide attacks, they may be used near the Kabul HKIA to avoid detection and increased scrutiny by coalition troops. Vehicle-borne IEDs are unlikely if the Taliban have closed road access to the Kabul HKIA per US requests. Rocket attacks are also likely, though ISIS-K is not likely to use them at the airport due to detection systems. Rocket attacks are more likely in other public buildings, hotels, and any remaining embassies. As casualties from the August 26 attack are admitted for treatment, ISIS-K attacks on medical facilities are also likely due to several reasons: the Taliban’s security is probably unrefined as it learns governance functions, security around hospitals is likely stretched thin due to the high number of victims, and extremist groups like ISIS-K have attacked soft targets such as hospitals in the past. Several ISIS branches have impersonated military personnel and although ISIS-K has not been known to do this, an insider attack on US forces from the Afghan military is possible.


As of the evening of August 27, 2021, the United States launched a retaliatory airstrike against an ISIS-K planner in the Nangarhar province.[6] While initial indications report the planner being killed, full impacts to ISIS-K are unknown at the time of this report and it is probable that the retaliatory attack will increase the likelihood of further attacks.[7] Depending on the seniority of the killed planner, ISIS-K’s operational capabilities may be reduced in the short term until a replacement is appointed. However, planned attacks are likely to be conducted as planned. The strike in Nangarhar indicates that despite sustained US and Taliban operations against ISIS-K, the group has proven resilient and capable. To rout out ISIS-K’s historic stronghold, the Taliban are likely to dispatch forces to target its senior leadership and prevent the organization from planning similar attacks against its forces in the coming weeks and months; civilian casualties are likely if such operations take place.


Foreign nationals in Afghanistan should heed security alerts by their embassies to avoid the airport and be prepared to exit the HKAI immediately if they are already there. As officers continue to screen and process people arriving at gates around Kabul, they should remain vigilant for unusual behavior and clothing that may indicate a concealed weapon or suicide bomb. Access to the airport should be limited by necessary road and gate closures in order to increase effective surveillance and limit crowding. Expanding the security perimeter and deploying air overwatch for force protection is also critical in light of the ongoing threat as US troops enter the most dangerous part of their evacuation mission. Maximum force protection measures at the Kabul HKAI and in surrounding areas should be in place especially as the number of military troops is reduced. Cautious intelligence sharing and coordination with the Taliban at security checkpoints is vital albeit in a limited capacity. Steps to target ISIS-K targets should continue to be taken such as airstrikes against high-value senior leadership and strategic locations where ISIS-K plans its operations. International forces should continue to monitor signals intelligence for specific details into the next attack and notify remaining forces on the ground to create contingency plans. International forces should also continue to use human intelligence, and all other disciplines, to gain who else may be involved in future attacks coming from ISIS-K. It is unclear what local intelligence capabilities exist, if any, and how much those components would be willing to work with the US.


CONCLUSION


CTG assesses that the current threat of attacks against US, Western, and local civilians and government forces by ISIS-K is HIGH. The CENTCOM Team’s analysis indicates that the risk of increased violence focused towards civilians throughout Afghanistan is HIGH due to these ISIS-K threats in highly-populated areas. It is possible that if the Taliban confronts any known ISIS-K members, that this could erupt in a more imminent attack or gunfire from both sides, adding to civilian casualties. Attacks against remaining foreign troops are likely to continue. CENTCOM will continue to monitor ISIS-K as the current threat of attack is HIGH. It is likely that ISIS-K will continue to target the US or western influence in the area.


UNITED STATES ALERT

US citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, North Gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately.

https://af.usembassy.gov/security-alert-u-s-embassy-kabul-august-27-2021/


UNITED KINGDOM ALERT

British citizens in Afghanistan should not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. Any British citizens near the airport should move away to a safe location.

https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-embassy-kabul


AUSTRALIA ALERT

Australia evacuation flights from Kabul have ceased. Australian citizens should not travel to Kabul airport and should move to a safe location.

https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/asia/afghanistan


If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and personnel, please contact The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-248 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

[1]Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan” by Google Earth

[2] CBS News Special Report: Deadly bombings near airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, YouTube, August 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHU0aOVAurU

[3] US officials warn of possible second Afghanistan attack amid evacuations, Washington Examiner, August 2021, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense/national-security/officials-warn-afghanistan-attack

[4] BREAKING: the U.S. military conducted ISIS-K airstrike, Twitter, August 27, 2021, https://twitter.com/laraseligman/status/1431428546573086720

[5] Drones are dropping bombs on US troops in Syria, and it's not clear who's doing it, Business Insider, March 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/drones-used-to-drop-bombs-on-us-troops-in-syria-2020-3

[6] The U.S. launches a reprisal strike and warns Americans to leave the Kabul airport immediately, The New York Times, August 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/28/world/asia/kabul-airport-attack-isis-us-strike.html

[7] BREAKING: the U.S. military conducted ISIS-K airstrike, Twitter, August 27, 2021, https://twitter.com/laraseligman/status/1431428546573086720



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