Top General Mark Milley says Taliban have ‘strategic momentum’ and now control more than half of Afghanistan’s district centers but insists the ‘endgame’ has not yet been written
- Gen. Mark Milley said the Taliban now controlled 213 of 419 district centers
- Last month the number was 81, showing their rapid advance as U.S. forces leave
- But he insisted that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable
- ‘I don’t think the end game is yet written,’ added the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
- He also said the U.S. withdrawal is now 95 percent complete
- It is ‘a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people,’ he said
The Taliban now control more than half of Afghanistan’s district centers, according an update provided on Wednesday by the most senior U.S. general, giving them ‘strategic momentum’ in a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
‘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,’ said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Pentagon press conference.
Officers say the U.S. withdrawal is now 95 percent complete and will be finished by President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline.
But that has presented the Taliban with an opportunity to advance across the country and triggered claims of victory throughout the global Jihadist movement.
Their fighters have seized border crossings and surrounded cities.
The advance brings fresh uncertainty to a war weary population, testing the morale of the Afghan army that has suffered years of high casualties and is now losing the support of international troops.
Gen. Mark Milley said the Taliban had ‘strategic momentum’ and held some 213 of the country’s district center as Afghan government forces consolidated around population centers
The Taliban have been claiming victory as U.S. forces departed and have presented their takeover of the country as inevitable. This picture shows supporters near the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan on July 14, 2021
Pakistani soldiers stand guard while stranded people move to cross border through Pakistan Afghan border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Pakistan has partially reopened its southern border crossing with Afghanistan, which was closed few days ago when the Taliban took control of the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak
Milley said the Taliban now held 212 or 213 of the country’s 419 district centers – last month the number was 81.
‘A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be – strategic momentum appears to be – with the Taliban,’ he said.
He added that the Taliban strategy appeared to be to isolate population centers, such as Kabul.
In response, Afghan security forces are focusing on defending cities, he added, suggesting that they were ceding rural areas to the Taliban.
‘They are right now, as we speak, adjusting forces to consolidate into the provincial capitals and capital,’ he said.
But he said the Taliban claims of inevitable victory were off the mark.
‘There’s a possibility of a negotiated outcome that’s still out there,’ he said.
‘There’s a possibility of a complete Taliban takeover or possibility of any number of other scenarios, breakdowns, warlordism, all kinds of other scenarios are out there we monitoring very closely.
‘I don’t think the end game is yet written.’
Milley said the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is on station, along with fighter plans and bombers, to provide support to American forces that remain in Afghanistan or in the region
He also described the military assets that were within range to protect remaining U.S forces in Afghanistan and the region.
‘USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on station, a package of long range bombers, additional fighter bombers and troop formations are postured to quickly respond if necessary and directed,’ he said.
The U.S. has yet to say whether it will continue to provide air support to Afghan forces but has said it will maintain an ‘over the horizon’ counterterrorism capability.
Speaking alongside Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the U.S. would be monitoring al-Qaeda presence.
‘Our major focus going forward is to make sure that violence, terrorism, cannot be exported from Afghanistan to our homeland, and so we’ll maintain the capability to be able to not only observe that but also address that if it does emerge,’ he said.