Top General Mark Milley says Taliban has ‘strategic momentum’ and now controls more than half of Afghanistan’s district centers, but insists ‘endgame’ hasn’t been written yet
- Gene. Mark Milley said the Taliban now controls 213 of the 419 district centers
- Last month the number was 81, demonstrating their rapid advance as US troops leave
- But he insisted that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable
- “I don’t think the endgame is written yet,” the Joint Chiefs chairman added
- He also said the US withdrawal is now 95 percent complete
- It is now “a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people,” he said
The Taliban now control more than half of Afghanistan’s district centers, according to a Wednesday update by the top US general, giving them “strategic momentum” in a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
“This 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 Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference.
Officials say the US withdrawal is now 95 percent complete and will be completed by President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline.
But that has given the Taliban a chance to advance across the country and has led to victories across the entire global jihadist movement.
Their fighters have captured border crossings and surrounded cities.
The advance brings new uncertainty to a war-weary population, and tests the morale of the Afghan military, which has suffered many casualties for years and is now losing support from international forces.
Gene. Mark Milley said the Taliban had “strategic momentum” and held some 213 of the country’s district center as Afghan government forces consolidated around the population centers
The Taliban have claimed victory when US forces left and have presented their takeover of the country as inevitable. This photo shows supporters at the Friendship Gate border crossing in the Pakistan-Afghan border town of Chaman, Pakistan on July 14, 2021
Pakistani soldiers stand guard as stranded people cross the border through Pakistan Afghan border crossing in Chaman, Pakistan, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Pakistan has partially reopened its southern border crossing with Afghanistan, which was closed several days ago when the Taliban took control of the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak
Milley said the Taliban now owned 212 or 213 of the country’s 419 district centers — last month the number was 81.
“Over the course of six, eight, ten months, a significant portion of the territory has been taken over by the Taliban, so the momentum — it seems to be strategic momentum — is with the Taliban,” he said.
He added that the Taliban’s strategy appeared to be to isolate population centers such as Kabul.
In response, Afghan security forces are focusing on defending cities, he added, suggesting they ceded rural areas to the Taliban.
“At the moment they are adjusting their forces to consolidate in the provincial capitals and capital,” he said.
But he said the Taliban’s claims of an inevitable victory were wrong.
“There is a possibility of a negotiated outcome that is still out there,” he said.
“There is a possibility of a complete takeover by the Taliban or any number of other scenarios, disruptions, war rule, all sorts of other scenarios that we are closely monitoring.
“I don’t think the endgame has been written yet.”
Milley said the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is at the station, along with fighter jets and bombers, to provide support to US forces remaining in Afghanistan or in the region.
He also described the military assets within reach to protect the remaining US forces in Afghanistan and the region.
“USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is at the station, a package of long-range bombers, additional fighter-bombers and troop formations are lined up to respond quickly if needed and targeted,” he said.
The US 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” counter-terrorism capability.
Along with Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US would monitor al-Qaeda’s presence.
“Our main focus going forward is to ensure that violence, terrorism, cannot be exported from Afghanistan to our homeland, and so we will maintain the ability to not only observe that, but deal with it when it occurs.” he said.