The UK is “ready” to launch strikes at ISIS in Afghanistan, after it was revealed by the Pentagon there are at least 2,000 “hardcore” ISIS-K fighters in the country.
US forces completed their withdrawal late on Monday evening, bringing to an end a western military presence which lasted since the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
While the UK had finished its withdrawal from Afghanistan the day before, the head of the Royal Air Force told The Daily Telegraph the UK could be involved in strikes against Islamic State Khorasan – or ISIS-K.
RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said: “Ultimately what this boils down to is that we’ve got to be able to play a global role in the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh [ISIS], whether it’s strike, or whether it’s moving troops or equipment into a particular country, at scale and at speed.”
He added: “If there’s an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to – that will be anywhere where violent extremism raises its head, and is a direct or indirect threat to the UK and our allies.
“Afghanistan is probably one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, and we’re able to operate there.”
ISIS-K was responsible for the suicide bombing attacks which killed almost 200 people – including two British citizens – at Kabul airport last week.
After announcing the US military withdrawal was complete, head of United States Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie said: “[ISIS] remain a very lethal force and I think we would assess that, probably, there are at least 2,000 Hardcore ISIS fighters in Afghanistan now.
“And of course many of those come from the prisons that were opened a few days ago. So that number is up and is probably as high as it’s ever been in quite a while.”
The US carried out a strike on what they say was an “ISIS-K vehicle” carrying “a substantial amount of explosive material” and heading to Kabul airport on Sunday.
However, it has now emerged that a family says the strike killed 10 of their relatives – including several children.
The United States is “assessing” what happened, after “significant secondary explosions” took place according to US Army spokesman Major General William Taylor.
The UK’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dame Barbara Woodward, said that “a coordinated approach will be vital to counter any extremist threat emanating from Afghanistan”.
And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was a signatory to a statement from the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS about Afghanistan.
It said: “We will continue working closely together under the auspices of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to effectively counter this dangerous threat.
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“In that effort, we will draw on all elements of national power – military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, law enforcement – to ensure the defeat of this brutal terrorist organisation.
“We will continue to apply robust counterterrorism pressure against ISIS wherever it operates.”
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