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Pentagon Official Raises Doubts About Taliban's Ability To Fight Islamic State In Afghanistan

U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Policy Colin Kahl, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of the Taliban. (file photo)

A senior Pentagon official said it is unclear whether the Taliban has the capability to fight the Islamic State extremist group effectively, even if it is clear that the two groups are “mortal enemies.”

Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told a congressional committee on October 26 that the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the Taliban is “highly motivated” to go after Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K). But he added: “Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined."

IS-K has claimed responsibility for some of the worst attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power in August. This includes suicide bombings in mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar provinces that killed almost 150 people earlier this month.

Before the U.S. military completed its withdrawal at the end of August, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and 170 Afghans, mostly civilians.

In his comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl estimated that IS-K currently has a "few thousand" fighters in Afghanistan and said the group could have the capability to attack the United States in as little as six months.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister of the Taliban-led government, has said the threat from Islamic State militants will be addressed. He also said Afghanistan would not become a base for attacks on other countries.

U.S. officials and senior Taliban representatives discussed topics such as reining in extremist groups during meetings earlier this month in Doha, Qatar.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the AP after those meetings that the Taliban will not cooperate with the United States to rein in Islamic State affiliates and other extremist groups, saying it could tackle IS-K "independently.”

Speaking to the committee, Kahl also commented on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, saying the militant group that the Taliban harbored prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks poses a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban.

Kahl said it could take Al-Qaeda "a year or two" to regenerate the capability to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan against the United States, according to the U.S. intelligence community assessment.

The Pentagon has said the United States will continue to be vigilant against threats emanating from Afghanistan by carrying out intelligence-gathering operations in the country that would identify threats from groups like Al-Qaeda and IS-K so they do not become capable of striking the United States.

Kahl also said the United States did not yet have any agreements with countries neighboring Afghanistan to host troops for counterterrorism efforts.

With reporting by Reuters
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