Top general: 'It's possible' US could coordinate with Taliban on ISIS-K

Top general: 'It's possible' US could coordinate with Taliban on ISIS-K
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Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' We've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive Key Iraq War strategist and former Army chief Raymond Odierno dies at 67 MORE on Wednesday said “it’s possible” the U.S. military could coordinate with the Taliban on any future counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K in Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders communicated daily with the Taliban last month to facilitate the evacuation of thousands of people from the Kabul airport as the United States ended its 20-year conflict in the country. The two sides also reportedly had a secret agreement to have Americans escorted to the airfield.

The Pentagon hit ISIS-K targets following last week’s suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members. The Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack outside the Kabul airport.

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“We don’t know what the future of the Taliban is, but I can tell you from personal experience that this is a ruthless group, from the past, and whether or not they change remains to be seen,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “As far as our dealings with them at that airfield 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.”

Pressed on any possibility of coordination with the Taliban against ISIS-K, Milley replied: “It’s possible.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Marine who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal sentenced Air Force general becomes second woman to head US military command Military judge blasts Marine Corps's handling of officer who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal MORE, who spoke alongside Milley, said U.S. commanders worked with the Taliban “on a very narrow set of issues” to get as many people evacuated as possible.

“I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues.” Austin said. “It’s hard to predict where this will go in the future with respect to the Taliban.”

He later added: “We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we remain focused on ISIS-K, understanding that network and at the time of our choosing in the future, hold them accountable for what they’ve done.”

The U.S. military and its allies evacuated more than 124,334 people from Afghanistan, including nearly 6,000 American citizens, on 778 flights since the end of July, Milley said.

Of those evacuees, 20,000 are being housed in seven staging bases in five countries under U.S. Central Command, with another 23,000 in seven staging bases in four countries in Europe. 

As of Wednesday morning, about 20,000 Afghans had arrived at eight different military installations throughout the United States, including Fort Lee, Va.; Fort McCoy, Wis.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Austin said he will travel next week to meet with partners who helped shuttle and temporarily house Afghans during the evacuation and relocation process.

“Some of those brave Afghans will be coming to make new lives with their families in America. After careful screening by our security partners, and we are sheltering some of these evacuees at some of the military facilities here at home, and I'm proud of the way our military communities have welcomed them,” Austin said.

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He added that the Pentagon has “continued to tackle security challenges” around that world, which includes “relentless counterterrorism efforts against any threat to the American people from any place.”

Austin also paid tribute to the 13 U.S. service members who died last week.

“Our forces risked their own lives to save the lives of others, and 13 of our very best paid the ultimate price. And many of them were too young to personally remember the 9/11 attacks. The United States military will always honor their heroism. We mourn with their families, and we owe them support through the days and years ahead,” Austin said.