Retired general says US ‘target No. 1’ for ISIS-K after Moscow attack

ISIS-K, the Central Asian offshoot of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group that carried out the deadly Moscow concert hall attack last month, badly wants to target the United States, two former U.S. Central Command leaders are warning.

Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, former CENTCOM head, said Sunday that the group has a “strong desire” to attack the U.S. and Biden administration officials should “believe them when they say that.”

“I think the threat is growing,” McKenzie told ABC News’s “This Week,” noting that it began to grow after U.S. forces left Afghanistan in August 2021, which took pressure off ISIS-K.

He also pointed to the March 22 attack on Crocus City Hall theater in Moscow, where at least 143 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured by four gunmen, as an indication “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.”

And retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Quantock, who oversaw intelligence operations for CENTCOM, told USA Today that the U.S. “remains target No. 1 for ISIS-K.”

“They clearly would like to strike the homeland, but their challenge is penetrating our security, which has proven to be quite resilient in recent years,” Quantock said.

Created in 2014, ISIS-K seeks to form a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and is known for its extreme brutality.

Following the Moscow attack, experts have warned that ISIS-K, whose plots were once largely confined to Afghanistan, has been picking up speed in the size and scope of its attacks.

The current U.S. Central Command leader, Gen. Michael Kurilla, last March warned Congress that ISIS-K was rapidly building up its ability to conduct “external operations” in Europe and Asia and could even be able to hit U.S. and Western interests outside Afghanistan “in as little as six months and with little to no warning.”

McKenzie, who was head of CENTCOM during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has long argued that the U.S. should have kept a small troop presence in Afghanistan, and without one Washington has “almost no ability to see into that country and almost no ability to strike into that country.”

“If you can keep pressure on them … in their homeland and their base, it makes it hard for them to conduct these types of attacks,” he said, referring to ISIS-K. “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.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.