U.S. says worried about increase in attacks by ISIS-K in Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO: Taliban fighters stand as they hold a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is worried about an uptick in attacks by Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan and remains deeply concerned about al Qaeda’s ongoing presence there, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West said on Monday.

He spoke to reporters by telephone from Brussels, where he briefed NATO allies on U.S. talks with the Taliban and held consultations on stabilizing Afghanistan following the Islamist militants’ takeover in August and the U.S. troop withdrawal.

West, who is due to travel on to Pakistan, India and Russia for more consultations, said the United States is preparing for the next round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, but he did not give a date.

With winter approaching, impoverished Afghanistan has emerged from all-out war into a humanitarian crisis as millions face growing hunger amid soaring food prices, a drought and an economy in freefall, fueled by a shortage of hard cash.

The Taliban also are confronting increasing attacks by its ideological foe, Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, the regional Islamic State affiliate.

West said Washington is “worried about the uptick in ISIS-K attacks, and we want the Taliban to be successful against them. When it comes to other (militant) groups, look, al Qaeda continues to have a presence there that we’re very concerned about.”

Al Qaeda’s presence “is an issue of ongoing concern for us in our dialogue with the Taliban,” he continued.

U.S. officials believe that ISIS-K could develop the ability to stage attacks outside of Afghanistan within six to 12 months and that al Qaeda could do the same within one to two years.

On other issues, West said that Washington is not seriously considering reopening its Kabul embassy for now, and wants to see the Taliban “establish a record of responsible conduct” before assessing that option.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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