Pentagon leaders hesitate to work with the Taliban

WASHINGTON – Just over a day after the last US serviceman left Afghanistan, the two top Pentagon leaders on Wednesday expressed suspicio...


WASHINGTON – Just over a day after the last US serviceman left Afghanistan, the two top Pentagon leaders on Wednesday expressed suspicion of continuing to cooperate with the Taliban leaders who helped secure passage safe to more than 124,000 evacuees from the country.

“We were working with the Taliban on a very narrow set of issues,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told reporters. “I wouldn’t make any logical leaps to bigger issues. It is difficult to predict where this will go in the future when it comes to the Taliban.

General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was more direct in his assessment of the Taliban, which took control of Kabul, the Afghan capital, two weeks ago after rapidly advancing across the country. US commanders commended the Taliban leadership for their cooperation in evacuating the Americans and their Afghan allies during the war.

“This is a ruthless group,” said General Milley, who was in command of troops in Afghanistan. “It remains to be seen whether they change or not. In war you do what you must.

When asked if the U.S. military would cooperate with the Taliban in the fight against the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the group that claimed responsibility for last week’s attack attack that killed 13 American soldiers and over 170 Afghans, said General Milley: “It is possible.

General Milley also defended a Sunday Air Force drone strike that the army claims to have destroyed a car full of explosives which posed an “imminent” threat to the evacuation operation. Afghans on the ground say he has killed at least 10 people, including seven children.

Pentagon officials said they were investigating reports of civilian deaths, but General Milley said the military had “very good information” that ISIS-K was preparing a specific vehicle at a specific location. to be used to attack the airport.

He said the secondary explosions after the drone strike supported the military’s conclusion that the car contained explosives, adding that military planners had taken appropriate precautions before the strike to limit the risk to civilians nearby.

“At this point, we believe the procedures were followed correctly, and it was a fair strike,” General Milley said.

Pentagon leaders said the mission in Afghanistan has shifted to a diplomatic effort, led by the State Department, to evacuate any remaining eligible Americans or Afghans who wish to leave the country.

The Biden administration has vowed to continue its efforts to get more people out of the country, but has come under pressure to act faster. U.S. officials estimate that there are fewer than 200 U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan, as well as several thousand Afghans who have helped the U.S. over the past two decades.

“The top priority of the entire Biden administration should be to get all US citizens and Afghan partners out of this dire and dangerous situation that they have created – they have made commitments to these people and must live up to them,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican leader. within the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Some 20,000 Afghans have arrived at eight military bases in the United States, where they are expected to complete the resettlement process across the country. But around 43,000 Afghans are still in transit along stages in the Middle East and Europe. The pipeline could take weeks, or even months, to clear, according to US officials.

Mr Austin emphatically pointed out that the State Department’s special interest visa program, known as SIV, was ill-equipped to deal with the avalanche of Afghans seeking to flee their country.

Although the program was used to evacuate thousands of interpreters, drivers and other Afghans who worked and fought alongside American troops, thousands of other Afghans threatened with retaliation by the Taliban were ultimately evacuated according to less heavy mechanisms.

“For the kind of operation that we just did, I think we need a different kind of capability,” said Austin.

Mr. Austin and General Milley, both combat veterans of the Four Star Army in Afghanistan, took advantage of the press conference to express their gratitude to the 800,000 US military personnel who served in the 20 Years War. “Your service mattered, and it wasn’t in vain,” said Austin.

Michael crowley contributed reports.

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