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DHS Braces for Terror Threat on Southern Border

National security officials fear newly freed Afghan terrorists may exploit border crisis

LA JOYA, TEXAS - APRIL 10: A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes the names of Central American immigrants near the U.S.-Mexico border on April 10, 2021 in La Joya, Texas. A surge of immigrants crossing into the United States, including record numbers of children, continues along the southern border. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
• August 24, 2021 5:00 am

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The Taliban's release of prisoners throughout Afghanistan poses a security threat on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to senior Department of Homeland Security officials and national security experts.

The Taliban freed thousands of prisoners, many of whom either worked directly with or had ties to al Qaeda and ISIS, when it captured Bagram Air Base on Aug. 15. Afghan soldiers surrendered the base with virtually no resistance, leaving U.S. intelligence officials with little ability to track suspected terrorists. The crisis at the southern border could prove an inviting target for terrorists, according to the DHS official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

"We’ve always been surprised by the countries of origin we see individuals coming from along our southwest border. It’s more than likely some Afghans will arrive now as well," the official told the Washington Free Beacon. "It’s definitely a national security threat, and the strain of forces currently along the border would make it more likely that some would slip through illegally."

The intelligence community warned the administration about terror threats at the southern border just weeks after President Joe Biden announced the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. National security officials warned the White House in a classified memo, first reported by the Free Beacon, that border patrol officers had arrested two Yemeni nationals on the terrorist watch list as they attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico. One of the two men was also on the FBI’s no-fly list. Their names have not been released to the public.

The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Senators from both parties pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley on whether the Pentagon would change its terror assessment of Afghanistan following the collapse of the U.S.-backed government. The two acknowledged their report to Congress in June—that Afghanistan contained only a "medium" risk of terror groups—was likely obsolete. 

Individuals who had worked on assessing terror threats at the southern border told the Free Beacon that the surge of migrants has left border patrol officers ill-equipped to face the new terror challenge. Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief of staff Jon Feere said the record-setting influx of illegal border crossings will only exacerbate the threat.

"When it comes to cross-border illegal immigration that goes undetected, there is obviously no background check taking place," Feere, who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, said. "Customs and Border Protection apprehended foreign nationals from countries across the globe and that means there are likely many aliens from problematic countries getting past the border patrol already."

Border patrol agents already complain about a lack of resources to adequately police the southern border. Biden administration officials have also come to acknowledge the strain. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas privately told border agents, "If our borders are the first line of defense, we're going to lose and this is unsustainable," according to leaked audio of his remarks. 

More migrants were recorded crossing into the country in July—212,000—than at any point in the last 21 years. Illegal crossings jumped 13 percent from June, which previously held the 21-year record.