Top Pentagon officials Wednesday said it is "possible" the United States will work with the Taliban against ISIS-K in Afghanistan while warning that the Taliban is a "ruthless group from the past."
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday made their first public remarks since the withdrawal of U.S. military assets from Afghanistan.
Milley was asked about the future of the Taliban, to which he responded: "I can tell you from personal experiences that this is a ruthless group from the past, and whether or not they change remains to be seen."
Austin added that the Pentagon is doing "everything" it can to "remain focused on ISIS-K," noting that "in the time of our choosing, in the future, we will hold them accountable for what they’ve done."
ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan citizens last Thursday.
Over the weekend, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike against a vehicle carrying at least one suicide bomber who intended to target Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The strike in a crowded neighborhood northwest of the airport set off "a significant secondary explosion," which indicated a "substantial amount of explosive material" inside the vehicle, Capt. Bill Urban, the spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement. While the target was initially described as a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (IED), an official clarified that the explosives may have been worn by one or more bombers inside, rather than planted on the vehicle itself.
The U.S. military took action to intervene and prevent another event like the one that occurred days earlier.
Milley on Wednesday said that the military had "very good intelligence that ISIS was preparing a specific type vehicle at a specific type location."
Milley said that the military initiated an investigation into the U.S. strike Sunday, but said that at least one person killed was "an ISIS facilitator."
"So, were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are, we don’t know. We’ll try to sort through all that," Milley said. "But we believe that the procedures, at this point, I don’t want to influence the outcome of an investigation, but at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed."
He added: "And it was a righteous strike."
Meanwhile, Austin maintained that it is the "duty" of the U.S. military to defend the nation.
"We’re not going to take our eye off the ball," Austin said. "That means relentless counterterrorism efforts against any threat to the American people from any place."
"That means working with our partners to shore up stability in the region around Afghanistan, and it means a new focus to our leadership in this young century to meet the security challenges from China, to seize new opportunities in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere," Austin continued. "And to deepen our ties with old allies and new partners, and to defend our democracy against all enemies."