Pentagon: 'Thousands' of ISIS terrorists released in U.S. withdrawal

ISIS fighters (Wikimedia Commons)

Amid a warning Friday to President Biden from his national security team that another terror attack in Kabul is likely, the Pentagon acknowledged that thousands of ISIS prisoners were released after the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram Air Base last month.

Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Friday: “How many ISIS-K prisoners were left at Bagram and are believed to have been released from the prison there, and why weren’t they removed before the US pulled out – to some place like Gitmo?”

Kirby said he didn’t know “the exact number.”

“Clearly, it’s in the thousands, when you consider both prisons,” he said.

Kirby noted that both prisons near Bagram, which is about a one-hour drive north of Kabul, “were taken over by the Taliban and emptied.”

On July 2, U.S. troops abandoned Bagram in the middle of the night without warning their Afghan allies. On Aug. 15, the Taliban seized the base from the Afghan army and set free 5,000 prisoners, which included by Taliban and ISIS fighters.

ISIS-K, the regional spinoff of the Islamic supremacist movement, claimed responsibility on Thursday for the suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members and seriously wounded another 14. Ninety-five Afghans also were killed in the attack at the Abbey Gate at the Kabul international airport where thousands of Americans and Afghan allies are gathered seeking to be evacuated.

At the Pentagon news conference Friday, Kirby addressed Griffin’s use of the term “emptied” regarding the prisoners.

“And as for emptying out, remember we were turning things over to Afghan national security forces, that was part of the retrograde process, was to turn over these responsibilities,” he said. “And so they did have responsibility for those prisons and the bases at which those prisons were located.”

Kirby said further that “as the Taliban advanced, we didn’t see the level of resistance by the Afghans to hold some territory, some bases, and unfortunately those were the bases the Afghans didn’t hold.”

“But all of those responsibilities were turned over in accordance with the retrograde plan back frame,” he said.

On Friday, a White House official who said Biden has been informed of the likelihood of an imminent terrorist attack warned that “the next few days of this mission will be the most dangerous period to date.”

See video of John Kirby’s remarks:

Nathan Sales, the former ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism under former President Trump, told Fox News on Friday it’s likely that freed ISIS-K prisoners contributed to the deadly bombing Thursday.

Cautioning that it’s pemature to draw firm conclusions, Sales said it’s possible that ISIS-K was able to pull off such a sophisticated attack so quickly because the prisoner-released enchanced its capability in the region.

“I think one of the things we’ll need to look at is the extent to which escaped ISIS prisoners had a role in planning and carrying out this attack,” Sales said.

‘Wishful thinking’

In his address to the nation on Thursday, Biden vowed to retaliate for the attack.

“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said, addressing the terrorists.

But former U.S. Army vice chief of staff Jack Keane said Friday the mission will be much “harder with all of the resources we’ve pulled out.”

“It’s going to be very difficult, and it highlights the problem we have with the growing international terrorist threat inside of Afghanistan,” he said in a Fox News interview. “How are we going to track that?”

Keane said the idea of monitoring the threat from “over the horizon” — as opposed to from inside the country — “is largely wishful thinking.”

“We just lost all the Afghan people that we had a connection to. We just lost all of the security forces, which were also our eyes and ears,” he said.

Keane noted there were CIA bases in the country that were exclusively focused on the terrorist threat from al-Qaida and others.

“All of that is gone,” he said. “This is going to be very challenging.”

Panetta: ‘We’re going to have to go back’

On Thursday, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that U.S. troops will need to return to Afghanistan to address the terror threat, calling the suicide bombing “Joe Biden’s worst nightmare.”

“We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS. We’re probably going to have to go back in when al-Qaida resurrects itself, as they will, with this Taliban,” said Panetta, a Democrat who served under President Obama.

He noted the Taliban “gave safe haven to al-Qaida before, they’ll probably do it again.”

Panetta also served as director of the CIA, overseeing the U.S. operation that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I understand that we’re trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is, we can leave a battlefield, but we can’t leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our security,” he told CNN.

‘In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years’

The Associated Press reported July 5 the U.S. left Bagram after nearly 20 years by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander.

One Afghan soldier told the AP that in “one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area.”

Another soldier, Abdul Raouf, who had served for 10 years, including in Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said that within 20 minutes of the U.S. departure, , the electricity was shut down and the base was plunged into darkness.

He said the sudden darkness was like a signal to the looters, who smashed through the first barrier, ransacked buildings and loaded into trucks anything that was not nailed down.


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