The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Top U.S. military officer: Coordinati­on with Taliban on strikes ‘possible’


WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that it’s “possible” the United States will seek to coordinate with the Taliban on counterter­rorism strikes in Afghanista­n against Islamic State militants or others.

Milley did not elaborate, and his comment did not appear to suggest immediate plans to work with the Taliban.

U.S. military commanders coordinate­d daily with Taliban commanders outside the Kabul airport over the past three weeks to facilitate the evacuation of more than 124,000 people. But that was a matter of convenienc­e for both parties and not necessaril­y a sign that they will pursue, or even want, a regular relationsh­ip in the future.

The U.S. military ousted the Taliban from power in the fall of 2001 and fought against them for the 19 years that followed.

The extent and nature of a U.S.-Taliban relationsh­ip, now that the war is over, is one of the key issues to be worked out. The U.S. diplomatic presence in Kabul has been moved to Doha, Qatar. President Joe Biden has noted several times recently that the Taliban are avowed enemies of the Islamic State group in Afghanista­n, suggesting a shared interest with the United States.

At a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Milley called the Taliban “ruthless” adding, “Whether or not they change remains to be seen.” He suggested that the recent cooperativ­e arrangemen­t with the Taliban at Kabul airport was not necessaril­y a model for the future.

“In war you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessaril­y want to do,” Milley said.

Biden has promised further targeting of the IS group in Afghanista­n in response to the IS suicide bombing last week at a Kabul airport gate that killed scores of Afghans and 13 American service members. On Saturday the U.S. military carried out a drone strike in Afghanista­n that it said killed two IS planners. On Tuesday, Biden said, “To ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet,” referring to the IS group.

Targeting Islamic State militants or other extremist groups, such as al-Qaida, will be more difficult with no U.S. military forces on the ground and no friendly government forces with which to share intelligen­ce on extremist networks. But the Biden administra­tion asserts that it can contain these groups by monitoring and potentiall­y striking with assets based elsewhere in the region.

Although the Taliban oppose IS, it’s far from clear that they will be inclined to work with the U.S. military or the Central Intelligen­ce Agency now that they have regained power in Kabul. Milley has recent experience with Taliban leaders; twice last year, most recently in December, he met face-to-face with them in an attempt to slow their attacks on the U.S.-backed Afghan government, which collapsed in mid-August, triggering the frantic U.S.-led evacuation.

Austin sounded at least as skeptical as Milley regarding the possibilit­y that the coordinati­on in recent days at the Kabul airport suggests a future relationsh­ip with the Taliban.

“I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues,” said Austin.

Both Austin and Milley commanded troops in Afghanista­n during the 20-year war and their comments at Wednesday’s news conference largely focused on tributes to those who served in Afghanista­n, including those who died or were wounded. They also thanked all who contribute­d to the final airlift, which Austin called the largest evacuation of civilians in American history.

Milley and Austin urged war veterans to view their service as worthwhile and appreciate­d by the American public, while acknowledg­ing that the memories can be painful.

“War is hard. It’s vicious. It’s brutal. It’s unforgivin­g,” Milley said. “Yes, we all have pain and anger. When we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger.”

With the U.S. involvemen­t in the war over and all American military out of the country, Biden is grappling with the prospects of a new relationsh­ip with the Taliban. He has tasked Secretary of State Antony Blinken with coordinati­ng with internatio­nal partners to hold the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who want to leave in the days ahead.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has described the U.S. relationsh­ip with the Taliban during the evacuation as “very pragmatic and very businessli­ke,” saying they helped secure the airport. But other reports from people in Afghanista­n described shootings, violence and Taliban moves to block desperate Afghans from getting through the gates.

Biden in an address to the nation Tuesday defended his decision to end America’s longest war and withdraw all U.S. troops by an Aug. 31 deadline.

“I was not going to extend this forever war,” Biden declared from the White House. “And I was not going to extend a forever exit.”

 ?? Alex Wong / Getty Images ?? Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley deliver remarks at the Pentagon on Wednesday in in Arlington, Va. Austin and Milley spoke about the end of the military mission in Afghanista­n.
Alex Wong / Getty Images Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley deliver remarks at the Pentagon on Wednesday in in Arlington, Va. Austin and Milley spoke about the end of the military mission in Afghanista­n.

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