US military chief calls Taliban 'ruthless' despite cooperation during Kabul evacuation

US military chief calls Taliban 'ruthless' despite cooperation during Kabul evacuation
General Mark Milley's remarks came after a report emerged that the US and the Taliban engaged in an unprecedented level of tactical coordination during the Kabul evacuation process.
3 min read
02 September, 2021
General Mark Milley said cooperation between the sides at Kabul airport had been necessary “to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessarily want to do.” [Getty - file photo]

The chairman of Washington's Joint Chiefs of Staff has labelled the Taliban as "ruthless" despite reports the militants directly assisted the US evacuation effort from Kabul airport.

Defence Minister Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley downplayed the level of collaboration between the US and Taliban, saying it was necessary to reduce the risks to US service personnel and American citizens as they evacuated Kabul.

General Milley went on to warn that the Taliban remain a "ruthless" organisation, despite their willingness to engage with the US. 

"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," he said at the Pentagon press meeting on Wednesday.

"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."

On Wednesday, it emerged that American citizens and Afghans had been instructed to attend a pre-set "muster point" where they would meet Taliban fighters who escorted them to the airport where they would be handed over to US forces for evacuation.

Austin was dismissive of whether such tactical coordination indicated that future military and intelligence cooperation between the US and Taliban in tackling ISIS-KP - Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate - was possible.

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

A blast claimed by the much more hardline ISIS-KP group outside Kabul airport claimed the lives of more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US servicemen.

'Collateral damage'

The remarks by the senior officials come as a video shared to social media showed a Taliban commander in Kabul blaming the families of children killed in the group's past attacks on the government for having not joined the group in its "jihad" against "the occupied regime".

According to Save the Children, an average of five children in Afghanistan were killed or maimed every day between 2005 and 2019, when fighting raged between the Afghan government and insurgents. 

A UN report published last month found that 5,770 Afghan children were killed or maimed between January 2019 and December 2020, with the Taliban responsible for nearly half of the incidents.

The executive director of UNICEF has expressed "deep concern" for children's and women's rights after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the total withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Speaking to CNBC on Tuesday, Henrietta Fore drew attention to the plight of the high numbers of unaccompanied children in the aftermath of the evacuation missions at Kabul Airport.

"Many have been separated from their families. Some have been in the airport area, either just outside the gate or inside the gate," she said. 

She also urged the importance of restarting immunisation programmes for preventable diseases such as polio and measles, whose rates had dropped significantly.