“The threat is real. It’s acute. It is persistent. And it is something we’re focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” Sullivan told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “State of the Union” Sunday.
CNN reported earlier this weekend that the US military is establishing “alternative routes” to the Kabul airport because of a threat the terror group ISIS-K, a self-proclaimed branch of the Islamic State, poses to the airport and its surroundings.
SIS-K is a branch of the terror group that first emerged in Syria and Iraq. While the affiliates share an ideology and tactics, the depth of their relationship with regards to organization and command and control has never been entirely established.
Sullivan said US commanders on the ground “have a wide variety of capabilities they’re using to defend the airfield against a potential terrorist attack” and the US is working with the intelligence community to determine where a potential attack might originate.
“It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting, and we’ll do everything we can as long as we’re on the ground to keep that from happening, but we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously,” he said.
President Joe Biden is set to receive an update from his national security team on Afghanistan later Sunday morning and is expected to address the evolving situation in remarks Sunday afternoon.
On “State of the Union,” Sullivan was unable to provide a precise number of how many Americans and legal permanent US residents are currently in Afghanistan but put the estimate at “several thousand.”
“We are working hard to organize groups of Americans, to bring them on the airbase, to get them on flights and get them out of the country,” he said, citing an “operational and logistical challenge in a risky and dynamic environment.”
In the last 24 hours, more than 7,500 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan via US military aircraft or US-facilitated flights through private organizations and partnerships with other countries, according to Sullivan.
This story has been updated.