From Kabul to Kentucky: Afghans put down roots in refugee haven

By Amira Karaoud and Mary Milliken

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (Reuters) – After exhausting journeys that took them from Kabul to Qatar to European cities to U.S. military bases, Afghan families fleeing the Taliban alighted in Kentucky, in a small city well versed in receiving refugees.

Bowling Green has welcomed waves of refugees over four decades, beginning with the Cambodians in the 1980’s and then Bosnians in the 1990’s, plus Iraqis, Burmese, Rwandese and Congolese and others, who have helped make the city of 72,000 a diverse and economically thriving place.

Wazir Khan Zadran was a tribal leader who fought 20 years ago against the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the Taliban. Although he more recently worked with a non-governmental organization, he knew the Taliban would come for him.

Zadran said the Americans saved him and his family by picking them up in a Chinook helicopter in August and taking them to the Kabul airport. After a spell at a New Mexico military base, they were sent to Bowling Green and quickly realized they had lucked out in their new American lives.

“We are so happy in Bowling Green,” said the 41-year-old father, who has secured a comfortable house and sent his children to school with the assistance of the local resettlement agency, the International Center, founded in 1981.

“Also, the local community is helping us and introducing the culture to us,” Zadran added.

His six children are learning songs in English, sending “Dear Santa” letters off, going to the library and lapping up ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.

In the aftermath of rising anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment during the Trump administration, the United States government is now handling its biggest refugee evacuation since Vietnam. Of the nearly 75,000 expected to settle in America, Bowling Green will receive 350 Afghans in fiscal year 2022.

There are plenty of jobs for new residents of Bowling Green, an agricultural and manufacturing hub, perhaps best known for the assembly plant that makes the coveted Corvette sports car. The Bosnians, who now number around 10,000 and own several companies, attest to the good job prospects when the Afghans’ expedited work permits arrive in coming months.

“In 2000 when I came here, I arrived with a couple of suitcases and two infant children and my wife,” said Tahir Zukic, a Bosnian from Srebrenica who owns Taz Trucking, employing 100 people and 140 trucks.

“It’s absolutely an amazing place to be, with a lot of opportunity and you can just do what you like to do.”

For those who did not work with the Americans in Afghanistan, learning the language could be the toughest part of adapting to their new home, Zukic said. But they also must learn how America works, how to drive, how to get a credit card. And what to do when tornadoes approach.

The twisters that tore through Kentucky this month jolted the Afghans’ sense of security. They were confounded by the 1 a.m. sirens that reminded them of Kabul and shocked by the uprooted trees, roofs ripped off houses and deaths in one neighborhood home to many immigrants.

“We never saw a storm like this before in our life in Afghanistan, so we felt maybe we were going to another war,” Zadran said. “But God saved us.”

‘THIS IS MY PLACE’

Firas Majeed arrived in Bowling Green from Baghdad via Brooklyn, New York, in 2016. The Iraqi refugee came to visit a friend and decided “this is my place.” He now co-owns a grocery store stocked with Middle Eastern and European foods after working as a welder.

“The quality of life is higher than in the big cities,” said Majeed, who appreciates the big skies and verdant farms around Bowling Green, strong job market, low rents and medical care.

Majeed said the Afghans will get a lot of support because everyone saw the images of the chaotic evacuation from Kabul. The Iraqis can teach them things, like how to get a driver’s license.

Bowling Green is also a place that allows refugees to hold onto their identities while becoming Americans – offering a socially conservative environment to raise families and practice religions.

At the Forest Park Baptist Church, Congolese refugees have breathed new life into the community. Worship services and Bible study are translated into Swahili and sometimes held in that language.

“We love their gospel singing,” said church leader Mike Givens, and the church translates their songs so everyone hears the message.

“Our community has changed, so if we do not seek or go after the immigrant population, our church will not survive,” added Givens.

Back at the Zadran house, the children make quick progress with their new culture. The eldest, Zuleikha, teaches her siblings a song in English with the lyrics “What are you thankful for?”

As they applaud their own performance, Zuleikha declares “Finished!” and flashes a wide grin.

(Reporting by Amira Karaoud and Mary Milliken; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. authorizes certain transactions with Taliban to ease flow of aid to Afghanistan

By Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday formally exempted U.S. and U.N. officials doing official business with the Taliban from U.S. sanctions, clearing the way for proposed U.N. payments next year of some $6 million to the Islamists for security.

The U.S. Treasury Department announcement came a day after Reuters exclusively reported a U.N. plan to subsidize the monthly wages of Taliban-run Interior Ministry personnel who guard U.N. facilities and pay them monthly food allowances.

Some experts said the proposal raised questions about whether such payments would violate U.N. and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and on many of their leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Ministry chief and head of the Haqqani network.

The Treasury Department issued two general licenses allowing U.S. officials and those of certain international organizations, like the United Nations, to engage in transactions involving the Taliban or Haqqani network as long as they are official business.

A third general license gives nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) protection from U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and the Haqqani network for work on certain kinds of projects, including humanitarian programs for “basic human needs,” rule of law and education.

A senior U.S. administration official emphasized that while the United States was issuing the licenses, the Taliban would have to make decisions about how they operate the government to prevent a complete economic collapse.

“What we can attempt to do, what we’re going to work to do, is to mitigate the humanitarian crisis by getting resources to the Afghan people, and these general licenses will allow us to allow organizations that are doing this work to do exactly that,” the official told reporters.

The Treasury, however, warned the new general licenses do not allow financial transfers to the Taliban or the Haqqani network “other than for the purpose of effecting the payment of taxes, fees, or import duties, or the purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services.”

The economic crisis in Afghanistan accelerated when the Taliban seized power in August, as the former Western-backed government collapsed and the last U.S. troops withdrew.

The United States and other donors cut financial assistance on which the country became dependent during two decades of war with the Islamist militants, and more than $9 billion in Afghanistan’s hard currency assets were frozen.

The United Nations is warning that nearly 23 million people – about 55% of the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly 9 million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished landlocked country.

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about U.S. sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Exclusive-World Bank works to redirect frozen funds to Afghanistan for humanitarian aid only: sources

By Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank is finalizing a proposal to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies, people familiar with the plans told Reuters, but it leaves out tens of thousands of public sector workers and remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.

Board members will meet informally on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, hammered out in recent weeks with U.S. and U.N. officials, to redirect the funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has a total of $1.5 billion.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a cratering economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty three months after the Taliban seized power as the last U.S. troops withdrew from 20 years of war.

Afghan experts said the aid will help, but big gaps remain, including how to get the funds into Afghanistan without exposing the financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions, and the lack of focus on state workers, the sources said.

The money will go mainly to addressing urgent health care needs in Afghanistan, where less than 7% of the population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they said.

For now, it will not cover salaries for teachers and other government workers, a policy that the experts say could hasten the collapse of Afghanistan’s public education, healthcare and social services systems. They warn that hundreds of thousands of workers, who have been unpaid for months, could stop showing up for their jobs and join a massive exodus from the country.

The World Bank will have no oversight of the funds once transferred into Afghanistan, said one of the sources familiar with the plans.

“The proposal calls for the World Bank to transfer the money to the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, without any oversight or reporting, but it says nothing about the financial sector, or how the money will get into the country,” the source said, calling U.S. sanctions a major constraint.

‘NOT A SILVER BULLET’

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine, the source added.

“It’s a scorched earth approach. We’re driving the country into the dust,” said the source. Crippling sanctions and failure to take care of public sector workers will “create more refugees, more desperation and more extremism.”

Any decision to redirect ARTF money requires the approval of all its donors, of which the United States has been the largest.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that Washington is working with the World Bank and other donors on how to use the funds, including potentially paying those who work in “critical positions such as healthcare workers and teachers.”

The spokesperson said the U.S. government remains committed to meeting the  critical needs of the  Afghan people, “especially across health, nutrition, education, and food security sectors … but international aid is not a silver bullet.”

BYPASSING TALIBAN

Established in 2002 and administered by the World Bank, the ARTF was the largest financing source for Afghanistan’s civilian budget, which was more than 70% funded by foreign aid.

The World Bank suspended disbursements after the Taliban takeover. At the same time, Washington stopping supplying U.S. dollars to the country and joined in freezing some $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and halting financial assistance.

A World Bank spokesperson confirmed that staff and executive board members are exploring redirecting ARTF funds to U.N. agencies “to support humanitarian efforts,” but gave no further details. The United Nations declined to comment.

Initial work has also been done on a potential swap of U.S. dollars for Afghanis to deliver the funds into the country, but those plans are “basically just a few PowerPoint slides at this point,” one of the sources said. That approach would deposit ARTF funds in the international accounts of Afghan private institutions, who would disburse Afghanis from their Afghan bank accounts to humanitarian groups in Afghanistan, two sources said.

This would bypass the Taliban, thereby avoiding entanglement with the U.S. and U.N. sanctions, but the plan is complex and untested, and could take time to implement.

One major problem is the lack of a mechanism to monitor disbursements of funds in Afghanistan to ensure Taliban leaders and fighters do not access them, a third source said.

Two former U.S. officials familiar with internal administration deliberations said that some U.S. officials contend that U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Taliban leaders bar financial aid to anyone affiliated with their government.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

Taliban release media guidelines, ban shows with female actors

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban administration has released a set of restrictions on Afghan media, including banning television dramas that included female actors and ordering women news presenters to wear “Islamic hijab”.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue set out nine rules this week, a Taliban administration spokesman said on Tuesday, largely centered on banning any media that contravened “Islamic or Afghan values”.

Some edicts were targeted specifically at women, a move likely to raise concerns among the international community.

“Those dramas…or programs in which women have acted, should not be aired,” the rules said, adding that female journalists on air should wear “Islamic hijab” without defining what that meant.

Though most women in Afghanistan wear headscarves in public, the Taliban’s statements that women should wear “Islamic hijab” have often in the past worried women’s rights activists who say the term is vague and could be interpreted conservatively.

The rules drew criticism from international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said media freedom was deteriorating in the country.

“The disappearance of any space for dissent and worsening restrictions for women in the media and arts is devastating,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, in a statement.

Though Taliban officials have sought to publicly assure women and the international community that women’s rights will be protected since they took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15, many advocates and women have remained skeptical.

During the Taliban’s previous rule, strict curbs were placed on women’s ability to leave the house, unless accompanied by a male relative, or to receive education.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau; additional reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; writing by Charlotte Greenfield)

Taliban to purge ‘people of bad character’ from ranks

By Jibran Ahmad

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban have formed a commission to purge “people of bad character” from their ranks to protect Afghanistan’s reputation, the group said on Tuesday, in the latest sign it is trying to change from an insurgency into a regular government.

The Taliban operated as insurgent fighters for two decades before toppling a Western-backed government in August. Their membership has grown over the last two years, particularly after it became apparent that they would return to power in some form.

In an audio recording, Taliban deputy chief and Afghan interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani said: “We are learning that people of bad character had entered (Taliban) ranks and had been causing a bad name to the Islamic Emirate (Afghanistan) and serving their vested interests.”

“It is our humble wish that there should be a small number of people but they should be pure and sincere so that this movement should not get damaged,” he said in the audio, whose authenticity was confirmed to Reuters by Taliban officials.

Reports on social media have alleged that people identifying themselves as Taliban members have carried out a number of attacks on civilians and former members of the security forces of the ousted government since August, despite the Taliban leadership announcing a general amnesty. Taliban officials have repeatedly denied sanctioning these acts.

Haqqani, a shadowy figure who has never been pictured in public, is also the head of the Haqqani Network that carried out some of the most brutal attacks of the 20-year insurgency.

The commission – called the commission for the purification of the ranks – has been formed under the Ministry of Defense, which is headed by Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

Haqqani said the commission’s formation was urgently needed.

“I would like to ask our brothers to cooperate with the commission and don’t protect or support any individual of bad character on the basis of personal friendship,” Haqqani said.

The message was the latest indication of efforts the Taliban have been forced to make to adapt the movement from a guerrilla insurgency to a full civilian administration since August.

Taliban forces held a military parade in Kabul on Nov. 14 using captured U.S.-made armored vehicles and Russian helicopters in a display that showed their continuing transformation from an insurgent force to a regular standing army.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Gibran Peshimam in Kabul, Editing by William Maclean)

Exclusive-Qatar to act as U.S. diplomatic representative in Afghanistan – official

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent the diplomatic interests of the United States in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told Reuters, an important signal of potential direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war.

Qatar will sign an arrangement with the United States on Friday to assume the role of “protecting power” for U.S. interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize.

The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as U.S.-led forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.

Many countries including the United States and European states are reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not to sideline women and minorities.

But with winter approaching, many countries realize they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the deal with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at a news conference after their meeting on Friday.

According to the arrangement, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a U.S. Interests Section and will coordinate closely with U.S. State Department and with U.S. mission in Doha.

The U.S. official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban through the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years.

“As our protecting power, Qatar will assist the United States in providing limited consular services to our citizens and in protecting U.S. interests in Afghanistan,” said the senior State Department official, who spoke about the sensitive matter on the condition of anonymity.

Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information, and helping in emergencies, the U.S. official said.

The U.S. Interests Section will operate out of certain facilities on the compound in Kabul used by the U.S. Embassy prior to the suspension of operations, the State Department official said, adding that Qatar would monitor the properties on the compound and conduct security patrols.

Millions of Afghans face growing hunger amid soaring food prices, a drought and an economy in freefall, fueled by a hard cash shortage, sanctions on Taliban leaders and the suspension of much financial aid.

The Taliban victory in August saw the billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat abruptly switched off, with more than $9 billion in central bank reserves frozen outside the country.

In a separate agreement, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIV) and their eligible family members, the U.S. official said.

“SIV applicants will be housed at Camp As Sayliyah and al-Udeid Air Base,” the official said.

The two decades-long U.S. occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organized airlift in August in which more than 124,000 civilians, including Americans, Afghans and others, were evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of U.S.-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Robert Birsel)

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

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)

Dozens killed and wounded as blasts and gunfire hit Kabul hospital

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) -At least 25 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in an attack on Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital on Tuesday which saw two heavy blasts followed up by gunmen assaulting the site in central Kabul, officials said.

The explosions took place at the entrance of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and were followed immediately with an assault by a group of gunmen, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said.

Four of the attackers were killed by Taliban security forces and a fifth was captured, he said.

The blasts add to a growing list of attacks and killings since the Taliban completed their victory over the Western-backed government in August, undermining their claim to have restored security to Afghanistan after decades of war.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the operation was typical of the complex attacks mounted by Islamic State. It follows a string of bombings by the group which has emerged as the biggest threat to Taliban control of Afghanistan.

A Taliban security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 25 people had been killed and more than 50 wounded in the assault but there was no officially confirmed casualty toll.

Photographs shared by residents showed a plume of smoke over the area of the blasts near the former diplomatic zone in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of the city and witnesses said at least two helicopters flew over the area as the assault went on.

A health worker at the hospital, who managed to escape, said he heard a large explosion followed by a couple of minutes of gunfire. About ten minutes later, there was a second, larger explosion, he said.

He said it was unclear whether the blasts and the gunfire were inside the sprawling hospital complex.

Islamic State, which has carried out a series of attacks on mosques and other targets since the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul in August, mounted a complex attack on the hospital in 2017, killing more than 30 people.

The group’s attacks have caused mounting worries outside Afghanistan about the potential for the country to become a haven for militant groups as it was when an al Qaeda group attacked the United States in 2001.

The concern has been worsened by a spiraling economic crisis that has threatened millions with poverty as winter approaches and left thousands of former fighters with no employment.

The abrupt withdrawal of international support following the Taliban victory has brought Afghanistan’s fragile economy to the brink of collapse just as a severe drought has threatened millions with hunger.

(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Islamabad newsroom; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

‘Just give us our money’: Taliban push to unlock Afghan billions abroad

By John O’Donnell

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis.

Afghanistan parked billions of dollars in assets overseas with the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said the government would respect human rights, including the education of women, as he sought fresh funds on top of humanitarian aid that he said offered only “small relief”.

Under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, women were largely shut out of paid employment and education and normally had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

“The money belongs to the Afghan nation. Just give us our own money,” ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal told Reuters. “Freezing this money is unethical and is against all international laws and values.”

One top central bank official called on European countries including Germany to release their share of the reserves to avoid an economic collapse that could trigger mass migration towards Europe.

“The situation is desperate and the amount of cash is dwindling,” Shah Mehrabi, a board member of the Afghan Central Bank, told Reuters. “There is enough right now … to keep Afghanistan going until the end of the year.

“Europe is going to be affected most severely, if Afghanistan does not get access to this money,” said Mehrabi.

“You will have a double whammy of not being able to find bread and not being able to afford it. People will be desperate. They are going to go to Europe,” he said.

The call for assistance comes as Afghanistan faces a collapse of its fragile economy. The departure of U.S.-led forces and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.

The finance ministry said it had a daily tax take of roughly 400 million Afghanis ($4.4 million).

Although Western powers want to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognize the Taliban government.

Haqmal said Afghanistan would allow women an education, although not in the same classrooms as men.

Human rights, he said, would be respected but within the framework of Islamic law, which would not include gay rights.

“LGBT… That’s against our Sharia law,” he said.

Mehrabi hopes that while the United States has recently said it will not release its lion’s share of roughly $9 billion of funds, European countries might.

He said Germany held half a billion dollars of Afghan money and that it and other European countries should release those funds.

Mehrabi said that Afghanistan needed $150 million each month to “prevent imminent crisis”, keeping the local currency and prices stable, adding that any transfer could be monitored by an auditor.

“If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will be become scarce, grocery stores will be empty,” Mehrabi said.

He said that about $431 million of central bank reserves were held with German lender Commerzbank, as well as a further roughly $94 million with Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank.

The Bank for International Settlements, an umbrella group for global central banks in Switzerland, holds a further approximately $660 million. All three declined to comment.

The Taliban took back power in Afghanistan in August after the United States pulled out its troops, almost 20 years after the Islamists were ousted by U.S.-led forces following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

(Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and James MacKenzie in Islamabad; writing by John O’Donnell; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Islamic State in Afghanistan could be able to attack U.S. in 6 months-Pentagon official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Islamic State in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the United States in as little as six months, and has the intention to do so, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Tuesday.

The remarks by Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, are the latest reminder that Afghanistan could still pose serious national security concerns for the United States even after it ended its two-decade-old war in defeat in August.

The Taliban, which won the war, are enemies of Islamic State and have seen its attempts to impose law and order after the U.S. pullout thwarted by suicide bombings and other attacks claimed by Islamic State.

They include bombings targeting the minority Shi’ite sect and even an Islamic State beheading of a member of a Taliban militia force in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kahl said it was still unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to fight Islamic State effectively following the U.S. withdrawal in August. The United States fought the Taliban as well as striking groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda.

“It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Kahl said, using an acronym for Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Kahl estimated Islamic State had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters. Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi of the new Taliban 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.

Kahl suggested al Qaeda in Afghanistan posed a more complex problem, given its ties to the Taliban. It was those ties that triggered the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 following al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban had harbored al Qaeda leaders.

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.

Democratic President Joe Biden, whose supervision of the chaotic end to the war last summer has damaged his approval ratings, 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 Islamic State.

Kahl said the goal was to disrupt those groups so that Islamic State and al Qaeda don’t become capable of striking the United States.

“We need to be vigilant in disrupting that,” he said.

Still, U.S. officials privately warn that identifying and disrupting groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State is extremely difficult without any troops in the country. Drones capable of striking Islamic State and al Qaeda targets are being flown in from the Gulf.

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

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; editing by Jonathan Oatis)