“This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The Taliban have taken control of around half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts and “are pressing the periphery” of 17 of the 34 provincial capitals, but have not yet taken control of any of them, said. the high American general.
“What they’re trying to do is isolate the main population centers. They are trying to do the same in Kabul, ”Milley said.
In response, Afghan government forces are “consolidating” their positions to protect population centers, and fighting is expected to intensify in the weeks to come after the Eid al-Adha holiday.
A delegation of Afghan government and Taliban officials met in Doha over the weekend but failed to reach a hoped-for ceasefire deal. The armed group’s gains on the battlefield have emboldened the Taliban who are advancing “a narrative” they are winning, Milley said.
“They dominate the airwaves on this stuff,” he added.
President Joe Biden announced that the United States and NATO would withdraw their forces no later than September 11, the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States that sparked the invasion and the American occupation of Afghanistan. The US withdrawal has happened more quickly and is now expected to be completed by the end of August.
In exchange for the exit of foreign forces, the Taliban agreed to hold peace talks with the West-backed government in Kabul with the aim of reaching a political settlement that could lead to long-term stability for the torn country. by war. And the Taliban have agreed to prevent al-Qaeda or other armed groups from gaining a presence in Afghanistan.
“There is a possibility of a negotiated outcome. It’s still there. There is a possibility of a total Taliban takeover. There is a possibility of a number of other scents – blackouts, warlords, ”Milley said.
Last week, the United States supplied three new A-29 Super Tacano light propeller attack jets to the Afghan Air Force and three newly refurbished UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
“We are doing a lot to support the Afghan army and the Afghan leadership,” Milley said.
“They will continue to see a constant rate of this type of support going forward,” he said.
In addition, the United States plans to help refurbish the Afghan Air Force’s fleet of Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters, Pentagon officials said.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearly 95 percent complete to date, Milley said, and is expected to be completed by the end of August.
The United States has withdrawn 9,000 civilians and servicemen from Afghanistan and ceded control of all US military operating bases outside Kabul to the Afghan defense ministry, Milley said.
A contingent of around 650 US troops will remain to protect the US diplomatic presence in Kabul and its international airport. The United States has called on Turkey to start taking responsibility for airport security.
At the same time, “we have set up a node in Qatar which is now operational” which will allow the United States “to be able to carry out strikes beyond the horizon,” Milley said.
“Make no mistake that we remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government move forward,” he said.