The Department of Defense “has faced several challenges” conducting counterterrorism operations since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan last year, according to a recent report from the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.
Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell’s office released a report on Tuesday detailing “significant events” that involve Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Enduring Sentinel, the current and former Department of Defense missions to combat terrorism in Afghanistan, that took place from Jan. 1, 2022 through March 31, 2022.
“Since the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in August 2021, the DoD has not conducted any counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan as of the end of this quarter,” the report states. “The DoD’s over-the-horizon counterterrorism strategy has faced several challenges, including a lack of physical presence in Afghanistan or neighboring countries; reliance on overflight permission from Pakistan; long distances that aircraft must fly to reach targets in Afghanistan; and the loss of human intelligence assets on the ground.”
According to General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the then-Commander of U.S. Central Command, American air assets have to fly great distances before entering Afghan airspace and this reduces how long they can remain in the air for operations.
“This limitation, combined with the loss of human intelligence on the ground, has significantly reduced the DoD’s capacity to track terrorist targets in Afghanistan,” the report states.
The report also notes that the Afghanistan affiliate of the terrorist group the Islamic State, known as ISIS-K, has about 2,000 members in the country and has “remained the top terrorist threat this quarter, claiming responsibility for 41 terrorist attacks, including a bombing at a Shia mosque in Pakistan that killed 63 and wounded 200.”
In addition, ISIS-K’s “attacks have focused on the Taliban, religious minorities, and economic infrastructure. ISIS-K seeks to undermine the Taliban, and its propaganda aims to portray the Taliban as puppets of the West.”