The top US military leader on Wednesday expressed doubts if a Taliban victory is imminent in Afghanistan, contrary to a reported intelligence assessment.
“There are a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said at a Pentagon news conference with secretary of defence Lloyd Austin. “A negative outcome, a Taliban automatic military takeover, is not a foregone conclusion.”
“The Afghan security forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support them where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defence.”
Taliban forces have advanced rapidly in recent weeks to take control of the country, moving towards major urban centres. But despite a narrative that has gained currency of the imminent fall of Kabul, they have not taken yet any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals though they have taken district centres.
The top American general put the Taliban progress in perspective, knowing perhaps how closely the rest of the world is watching, resigned to a Taliban victory.
Asked why the Taliban with 75,000 military personnel appear to be winning against the Afghan military of 300,000 with 20 years of US training and support, General Milley said, “warfare is not just about numbers” but also about “will and leadership” to fight and prevail.
Gen Milley went on to preview Afghan military strategy in perhaps the clearest terms yet.
He started by putting in perspective the talk of Taliban progress, as a narrative propagated by the Taliban. “There clearly is a narrative out there that the Taliban are winning. In fact, they are propagating an inevitable victory on their behalf; they’re dominating a lot of the airwaves – that sort of thing.”
Gen Milley said that roughly 212 or 213 district centres are in Taliban control. “That’s half of the 419 in all. And the Taliban haven’t captured yet any of the 34 provincial capitals. Although the Taliban are putting pressure on the outskirts of probably about half of them – 17 of them, in fact – and what they’re trying to do is isolate the major population centres,” Miley said, adding, “They’re trying to do the same thing to Kabul.”
And although the Taliban may appear to have the momentum, the American general said the Afghans are being extremely tactical in their manoeuvres. “The Afghan security forces, are consolidating their forces,” Gen Milley said, adding, “So part of this is they’re giving up district centres in order to consolidate their forces because they’re taking an approach to protect the population, and most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and the capital city of Kabul.”