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Pentagon: ‘Thousands’ of ISIS-K Combatants Released by Taliban

Taliban fighters march in uniforms on the street in Qalat, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in this still image taken from social media video uploaded August 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that “thousands” of prisoners affiliated with ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorosan Province) — the terrorist group responsible for yesterday’s attacks at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul — had been freed from Afghan prisons in recent months as the United States moved forward with a military withdrawal.

On Friday, Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin asked Kirby “how many ISIS-K prisoners were left at Bagram and believed to have been released from the prison there and why weren’t they removed before the U.S. pulled out to some place like Gitmo?”

Kirby responded by conceding that “clearly, it’s in the thousands” while maintaining that he did not have an exact number. Bagram Airbase fell to the Taliban on August 15, just a little over a month after U.S. forces abandoned the base in the dead of night without notifying the Afghan commander on site and even cutting the electricity to the base to aid their exodus.

The spokesman stressed that it was the U.S.’s belief that Afghan forces were responsible for the release of the prisoners by the Taliban.

While the Taliban and ISIS-K are known to be rivals with a history of bad blood — the latter being scornful of the former’s lack religious zeal — Kirby’s words would seem to indicate that Taliban forces had no qualms about releasing ISIS-K’s combatants alongside their own.

The revelation also calls into question previous estimates of the Islamic State’s capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was believed that at its height in 2016, ISIS-K boasted only 3,000-4,000 fighters, and that that number had been depleted in the years since.

Yesterday, in a press conference following the bombing that killed at least 13 U.S. service members, CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie revealed that the U.S. military had been sharing intelligence with the Taliban, citing a “common purpose” of finishing the ongoing evacuation mission by August 31 as justification.

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