During a Wednesday Pentagon press conference, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley confirmed the possibility that the U.S. may work with the Taliban in Afghanistan to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
During the press conference, a reporter noted U.S. troops coordinated with the Taliban at times during the evacuation from Afghanistan and asked if similar coordination would be seen in efforts to disrupt the Afghan branch of ISIS, known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K.
“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. And 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,” Milley initially responded.
The reporter pressed the question, “Any possibility of coordination against ISIS-K?”
After a moment of pause, Milley replied, “It’s possible.”
Austin offered a more skeptical response to the question.
“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 lead to — I would not make any leaps of logic to, you know, a broader — to broader issues,” Austin said in his initial response.
Austin added, “I would not want to make any predictions. 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 — and at the time of our choosing in the future, hold them accountable for what they’ve done.”
President Joe Biden has characterized the Taliban as an “arch-enemy” of ISIS and said the Taliban have a self-interest in making sure ISIS does not grow in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also suggested working with the Taliban. According to Reuters, Raab said a meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, there’s a need to engage with the Taliban on Afghanistan, but that the U.K. has no immediate plans to recognize their government.
The U.S. could potentially find a common enemy with the Taliban in ISIS-K. The two militant groups are at odds. Business Insider reported ISIS-K views the Taliban as insufficiently radicalized and apostates for negotiating with the former Afghan government and the U.S.