WASHINGTON — The Taliban’s projections of rapidly showing control of the region in Afghanistan are no delusion, according to a top United States military official who believes the coming months will be a “test of will and leadership” for the Afghan government.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that about 212 of Afghanistan’s district centers – about half – are currently in Taliban hands, and Taliban forces are further on the outskirts of 17 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals. Increasing.
“There appears to be a tactical pace with the Taliban,” Milley told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
“What they’re trying to do is isolate the major population centers,” he said. “They are trying to do the same with Kabul, and broadly speaking … a significant amount of territory has been confiscated.”
The admission comes two and a half months after the US and its allies pulled their last remaining combat forces from Afghanistan and despite assurances from top US officials, including President Joe Biden, that a Taliban takeover is “highly unlikely”.
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After being briefed about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the US President said, it is time to fight the war of the next 20 years.
But independent trackers, such as those compiled by the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ long war journalThe U.S. has raised concerns, noting that the Taliban has nearly tripled the number of districts under its control since the withdrawal officially began on May 1.
Similarly, several intelligence agencies have sounded the alarm, with a UN report last month warning that the Taliban were preparing to take by force what they could not get through talks. The report further warned that the Taliban’s top representatives are “in favor of a military solution”.
UN report warns of imminent Taliban power play
The US, the Taliban’s positioning force, said in an assessment released on Thursday that what the US, coalition troops cannot achieve through negotiations, should be done by force.
Even from the Pentagon’s own math, the numbers tell a clear story.
Milley testified to US lawmakers in June that the Taliban had only 81 district centers at the time, meaning their control has more than doubled in the past month.
However, Milley warned on Wednesday that it would be a mistake to buy into the Taliban’s narrative of the melting of Afghan security forces in the event of a conflict.
“Part of this is that they (Afghan security forces) have left district centers to strengthen their forces because they are taking approaches to protect the population, and most of the population lives in provincial capitals,” he said. said. “I don’t think Endgame is written yet.”
Supposedly half the districts are in the hands of the Taliban.
“It’s going to be a test of will and leadership” he says #AfghanGVT of
— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) 21 July 2021
US defense officials also noted that Washington has spent nearly 20 years and nearly $90 billion to train and equip the more than 300,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces, roughly 3 to 1 more than the Taliban. .
He argues that while almost all US combat forces have left the country, Washington continues to strengthen the Afghan army with money and equipment.
“They will continue to drum up support,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Wednesday. “We are committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government move forward.”
Yet even within the US government, concerns remain about the ability of Afghan security forces to counter an attempt by the Taliban.
A report released last week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US government watchdog, warned that the forecast was inconclusive, by the Pentagon’s own metrics for assessing how Afghan forces would fare without a US military presence.
“It is difficult to answer the question of how the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) would perform against an adversary in the absence of direct US combat support,” the report said.
Some metrics favor future success for Afghan forces
A ‘lesson learned’ report by a US government watchdog has warned that US military assessments of Afghan security forces were “weak with over-optimism” at times.
US military planners have said that as of last week, 95% of the US military withdrawal was complete, and that the US remains on pace to end by the end of August.
Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon said it expects the first group of Afghan interpreters – and others whose lives may be at risk to aid Washington’s efforts – to arrive in the US soon.
“These are friends of the United States of America who have done exemplary and courageous acts, and we take our obligations to them and their families very seriously,” Austin said.
Speaking separately on Wednesday, US Afghanistan Task Force Director Tracy Jacobson said the first Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants could land in the US as early as next week.
Earlier this week, officials announced that 2,500 interpreters and their families would be brought to Fort Lee, Virginia, about 216 kilometers south of Washington, DC, before settling elsewhere in the US.
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Interpreters and their families will be among the first group of Afghans to be evacuated through “Operation Sahayak Refugees”.
A second group of 4,000 Afghans and another 15,000 or more family members will be relocated to a site outside the US while their applications are being processed, officials said.