Washington DC: The US military’s top officer has offered a glum assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan, saying the Taliban had seized “strategic momentum” over Afghan military forces who were falling back to protect important cities, including the capital Kabul.
The comments by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed mounting reports from the ground in Afghanistan. But his sober, almost clinical, account of recent Taliban gains hammered home the point.
“There’s a possibility of a complete Taliban takeover or the possibility of any number of other scenarios,” Milley said. “I don’t think the end game is yet written.”
The Taliban have taken control of more than 210 of Afghanistan’s roughly 420 districts in recent months, Milley told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. They are also pressuring half of the country’s 34 provincial centres and are aiming to isolate Kabul and other major cities, he said.
“Strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban,” he said. “There clearly is a narrative out there that the Taliban are winning. In fact, they are propagating an inevitable victory on their behalf.”
But Milley, who appeared alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in their first joint news conference since May 6, sought to reassure the Afghan government that the United States would continue to provide humanitarian and security assistance from afar. All US forces have left the country, except for about 650 troops assigned to guard the US Embassy and the Kabul airport.
Both Milley and Austin put responsibility for the country’s fate on Afghans and their leaders, not the Biden administration. Austin said that US air strikes after August 31, the military withdrawal deadline, would be reserved for al-Qaida and other terrorist targets, not Taliban fighters attacking Afghan forces.
“This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” Milley said.