Al-Qaeda, IS-K In Afghanistan Pose Medium-Level Threat To US: Austin

Kabul: The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate hearing on Friday that Al-Qaeda, and IS-K in Afghanistan pose medium threat to the US.

“I would also say that it would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability,” Austin said. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a similar timeline but downplayed prospects that the Kabul government would crumble. “I may be wrong, but I don´t see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan,” Milley had said. “The Taliban just aren´t the North Vietnamese Army. It´s not that kind of situation.”

The United States has been haunted by communist North Vietnam´s takeover of the Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and the hasty evacuations by helicopter as the longtime US ally fell. Of special concern are some 18,000 interpreters, commandos and other Afghans who have applied for visas to the United States but are caught in a backlog. Milley said that “planning is ongoing” but that the State Department was in charge. State Department officials say they are expediting visas but want to avoid setting off a panicked exodus of educated Afghans.

In fact, the situation is quite uncertain as US wants to maintain an over-the-horizon capability in order to protect its allies with help from Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. However, there has been a dent even in this plan as Prime Minister Imran Khan has clearly said that Pakistan will not give its bases to the US for operations in Afghanistan after the latter’s troops’ withdrawal.

In an interview with HBO Axios, Khan reiterated Pakistan’s stance on the use of military bases and categorically stated that Islamabad will not allow it. “There’s no way we’re going to allow any bases or any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” he said.

In a related development, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said that the situation in Afghanistan is fluid and uncertain amid the drawdown of US forces and the Taliban’s “relentless pursuit of power through violence”, including targeted assassinations and capture of territory.

Shringla’s comments came against the backdrop of the US having completed the withdrawal of more than 50% of its troops from Afghanistan well ahead of a September deadline, and the Taliban launching a wave of attacks across the country and targeting Afghan officials, activists and journalists in many cities. The violence by the Taliban has increased despite talks with the group at different forums, whereas India has always backed calls for a ceasefire and talks involving various stakeholders and all neighboring countries to find a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, Shringla said.

The foreign secretary was responding to questions on the withdrawal of US and foreign forces and the possibility of Indian firms investing in Afghanistan, especially in sectors such as mining. Though there have been some investments in Afghanistan’s mining sector, these have been affected by “uncertainties which are only increasing, not decreasing”, he said. “We hope the time will come when companies can go in and invest and realize their returns on investments appropriately and there is peace and stability in the country,” he added.

India, Shringla said, has always stood for a peaceful solution in Afghanistan. “We have always called for a ceasefire, we have always advocated that there should be talks between the government and the Taliban and others that are involved in this process, involving all the neighboring countries,” he said. As a friend of Afghanistan and its people, India continues to fervently hope there is peace and stability in the country, he said.

“But as I said, the situation today is very fluid and obviously a large number of US and coalition forces that have maintained a certain amount of stability, when they pull out, it creates an environment of uncertainty and we have to watch and see,” Shringla added

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