WASHINGTON: The Taliban appear to have “strategic momentum” in their large-scale offensives in Afghanistan, but victory is far from guaranteed, said Gen. Mark Milli, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.pix) said yesterday.
Nearly 20 years after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and with an almost complete withdrawal of American-led foreign forces, resurgent militants now control more than half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.
But they don’t have any of the country’s densely populated big cities, Milli said at a news conference.
When militants are putting pressure on about half of the country’s provincial capitals, he said, Afghan forces are “consolidating their forces” to defend these major urban centers.
“They seek to protect the population, and most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and Kabul,” Milli said.
“The automatic military takeover of the Taliban is not a foregone conclusion.”
The Taliban infiltrate Afghanistan, buy up territories, seize border crossings and surround cities.
Their success tested the morale of the Afghan army, already crushed by years of shockingly high casualties and, more recently, by the decision of international forces to withdraw.
Although the Afghan army has been trained and equipped with international forces and estimates show it to outnumber the Taliban by far, Milli said numbers are not all it takes to win a war.
“In fact, the two most important factors in combat are will and leadership. And now it will be a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government, ”he said.
US President Joe Biden also said the takeover of the Taliban was “not inevitable.”
But earlier this month, he also warned that Afghans must unite against the insurgents, and admitted that it is “very unlikely” that a single government will eventually be able to control the entire country.
End of the game “not yet written”
The US insists it will continue to support the Afghan army.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States handed over three Blackhawk attack helicopters to the Afghan army on Friday and that additional equipment will follow.
He added that American troops were stationed in Qatar to continue fighting jihadists in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops.
“We remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government in the future,” he said.
The State Department also announced that the first group of about 700 Afghans who have worked for the US military, making them targets for the Taliban, will arrive in the United States next week with their next of kin.
Another 4,000 workers and their families, a total of about 20,000 people, have received immigrant visas, State Department spokeswoman Tracy Jacobson said.
Milli said the US withdrawal was 95 percent complete, with equipment evacuating the equivalent of 984 C-17 aircraft.
His comments came hours after the Taliban announced yesterday that they would only fight for protection on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, but did not declare an official ceasefire.
The militants said they “strongly support” a political settlement to end the war with the government in Kabul.
But their drive to capitalize on the withdrawal has raised skepticism among many Afghans.
President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday that the Taliban have proven they have “no will and no intentions for peace,” and more than a dozen diplomatic missions in Kabul this week called for an “urgent end” of the offensive.
Afghan civilians, who have long borne the brunt of the fighting, are also watching the Taliban’s advance with fear.
Many, especially women and minorities, could lose hard-won rights and freedoms if militants return to any form of government.
Even if Kabul can contain them, civilians will face the possibility of a protracted and bloody civil war or an ethnic split in the country.
Milli said the chance for a negotiated political settlement “still exists.”
“There is the possibility of a complete seizure of power by the Taliban, or the possibility of any number of other scenarios – disruptions, warlords and all kinds of other scenarios,” he said.
“We are following very closely. I don’t think the final game has been written yet. ” – AFP