The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Wednesday that it is “possible” American forces will coordinate with the Taliban on operations against the terrorist group ISIS-K.
Milley made the comment — offering no elaboration — during a Pentagon briefing alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in response to a question about what communication between US military officials and Taliban leaders during the evacuation of Afghanistan meant for the relationship between the two and “the possibility of any kind of coordination in counter-terrorism operations against ISIS-K in Afghanistan.”
Austin responded first, saying that “we were working with the Taliban on a very narrow set of issues, and it was just that – to get as many people out as we possibly could, and so I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues.
“It’s hard to predict where this will go in the future with respect to the Taliban,” Austin added.
Milley initially appeared to be on the same page as Austin, calling the Taliban a “ruthless” group and saying that “whether or not they change remains to be seen.”
“As far as our dealings with them at that airfield [Hamid Karzai International Airport] or in the past year or so, in war, you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessarily want to do,” Milley added.
“Any possibility of coordination against ISIS-K with them?” the question came again.
“It’s possible,” Milley answered after a pregnant pause before Austin jumped in.
“Going forward, I would not want to make any predictions,” the defense secretary said. “I would tell you that we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure we remain focused on ISIS-K, understand that network, and at the time of our choosing in the future, hold them accountable for what they’ve done.”
During the final chaotic, tragic days of the American military’s 20-year stay in Afghanistan, officials at the Pentagon and State Department repeatedly portrayed the Taliban as an equal partner in the withdrawal that wrapped up Monday.
On Aug. 20, for example, State Department spokesman Ned Price insisted that the Taliban had ensured the US “they have no intention of impeding our operations or of standing in the way of those who are seeking passage to the airport” — despite eyewitness reports that the Islamic fundamentalist group’s fighters were assaulting people who attempted to pass through checkpoints ringing the airport.
Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, turned down an offer by the Taliban to secure Kabul — telling the group’s political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar that the American mission was solely to evacuate American citizens, Afghan allies and others at risk.
The result was the surreal image of Taliban fighters and US Marines working hundreds of yards apart as thousands of Afghans surged toward the airport gates each day. At one point, McKenzie described the Taliban’s conduct as “very pragmatic and very businesslike” in helping to secure the facility, despite the reports of widespread violence.
Since the conclusion of the US evacuation from Afghanistan, America’s diplomatic presence in the country has been moved to Doha, Qatar, which has hosted the Taliban’s political leadership for much of the past decade. President Joe Biden has noted several times recently that the Taliban are avowed enemies of ISIS-K, suggesting a shared interest with the United States.
In remarks from the White House Tuesday, Biden told the terror group — whose name refers to the Khorasan Province, its moniker for the territory that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan — that “we are not done with you yet.”
With Post wires