Former Top General Warns of ‘Inevitable’ ISIS Terrorist Threat in US
Former Top General Warns of ‘Inevitable’ ISIS Terrorist Threat in US

By Jack Phillips

The threat posed by the ISIS terrorist group is on the rise, according to the former head of the U.S. military’s Middle East command, speaking just days after ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack that left dozens of people dead in Russia.

Retired U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie told ABC News on March 31 that Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) will be able to conduct those types of attacks because no pressure is being applied “in their homeland and their base.” ISIS-K, reportedly based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has claimed that it conducted the attack in a Moscow concert hall that left at least 144 people dead in late March.

“Unfortunately, we no longer place that pressure on them, so they’re free to gain strength, they’re free to plan, they’re free to coordinate and to outreach and hit us in our homelands,” Mr. McKenzie said. “So, you’d much rather be playing an away game than a home game. We’ve chosen to play a home game.”

When asked by ABC News host Martha Raddatz about whether the ISIS threat would be different if U.S. forces had not been pulled out of Afghanistan and had left 2,500 troops there, the former general said that it “would be very different.”

“Leaving 2,500 troops, along with our NATO partners, who would have left 4,000 or 5,000 troops, we would have been able to continue to work against ISIS, which was the principal reason we’re in Afghanistan, to prevent attacks in our homeland,” Mr. McKenzie said. “I think we might be in a different place now. I think we might actually be safer now than we were.”

Now, in Afghanistan, the United States has no capacity to strike or evaluate the country, he said, adding that “ISIS there is able to grow unabated” because “there’s no pressure on them.”

“And, again, our operating theory has always been, with violent extremists, you want local security forces to be able to control them, and then you want them to not be able to establish the connective tissue internationally that allows them to carry out external attacks abroad—and it’s very hard to do that in Afghanistan, where you just don’t have the ability to sense, you don’t have the ability to strike, and very limited resources,” he said.

On March 22, attackers opened fire with automatic weapons on concertgoers in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, killing at least 144 people. ISIS, as it claimed responsibility, released footage from the attack. The United States and France have said that intelligence suggests that the group was indeed behind the attack, in which at least 144 people were killed and an estimated 550 were wounded.

The motive for the attack is not clear. Russia, along with U.S. and Syrian government forces, played a major role in defeating ISIS in Syria. After being forced out of Syria, its fighters scattered and different branches emerged, including an Afghan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, which seeks a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran, Reuters reported.

“I think the threat is growing,” Mr. McKenzie said on March 31. “It began to grow as soon as we left Afghanistan and took pressure off ISIS-K. So I think we should expect further attempts of this nature against the United States as well as our partners and other nations abroad. I think this is inevitable.”

US Warning to Russia

In a briefing to reporters last week, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that the United States passed to Russian security services a written warning of an extremist attack on large gatherings in Moscow, and it was one of many provided in advance.

“It is abundantly clear that ISIS was solely responsible for the horrific attack in Moscow last week,” he said. “In fact, the United States tried to help prevent this terrorist attack and the Kremlin knows this.”

A woman lights a candle at a memorial to the victims of a March 22, 2024, shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow, on March 24, 2024. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

It came after Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had uncovered evidence that the four men who carried out the March 22 attack were linked to “Ukrainian nationalists” and had received cash and cryptocurrency from Ukraine. Mr. Kirby dismissed those claims as propaganda.

The United States, he said, provided multiple advance warnings to Russian authorities of extremist attacks on concerts and large gatherings in Moscow, including in writing on March 7 at 11:15 a.m., to Russia’s security services.

“Following normal procedures and through established channels that have been employed many times previously … [the United States passed] a warning in writing to Russian security services,” Mr. Kirby said.

In March, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow sent out a warning about what it called an “imminent” terrorist threat, although few details were provided.

“The Embassy is monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts, and U.S. citizens should be advised to avoid large gatherings over the next 48 hours,” the U.S. Embassy warned on its website on March 8.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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