The country’s top military official on Wednesday offered a dismal assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan, saying the Taliban has seized “strategic momentum” on Afghan military forces, which are prioritizing the security of important cities, including the capital Kabul. were falling back for.
The comments by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, echoed growing reports from the ground in Afghanistan. But his quiet, almost clinical, account of recent Taliban gains hits the point.
“There is a possibility of a complete takeover of the Taliban, or the possibility of any other scenario,” General Milley said. “I don’t think the final game is written yet.”
General Milley told a Pentagon news conference that the Taliban had captured more than 210 of Afghanistan’s nearly 420 districts in recent months. He said they were also pressuring half of the country’s 34 provincial centers and were aiming to isolate Kabul and other major cities.
“The strategic momentum with the Taliban seems to be something like this,” he said. “There is clearly a narrative that the Taliban are winning. In fact, they are promoting an inevitable victory on their part.”
But General Milley, who in his first joint news conference since May 6, met Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, tried to reassure the Afghan government that the United States would continue to provide humanitarian and security assistance remotely. All US forces have left the country, except for about 650 soldiers assigned to guard the US embassy and Kabul airport.
General Milley and Mr. Austin both put the responsibility of the country’s fate on the Afghans and their leaders, not the Biden administration. Mr Austin said the US airstrikes after August 31, the troop withdrawal deadline, would be reserved for al Qaeda and other terrorist targets, not Taliban fighters attacking Afghan forces.
“It is now going to be a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” General Milley said.
In response to Taliban attacks, hundreds of Afghan soldiers have surrendered, abandoning their US-supplied equipment and sometimes fleeing to neighboring countries. The Afghan government’s counterattacks have met with limited success.
General Milley said several other Afghan troops were retreating to defend major provincial cities. He said violence had subsided in the past few days with the start of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, but the country could reach a turning point when fighting resumes.