Following Kirby's comments, another defense official said that on Wednesday and Thursday, the United States conducted a total of more than four airstrikes in support of Afghan forces. At least two of the strikes were to destroy military equipment, including an artillery piece and a vehicle, that the Taliban had taken from Afghan forces, the official said. The Afghans requested those strikes, as well as those targeting Taliban fighting positions, including at least one strike in the southern province of Kandahar.
U.S. officials have urged the Afghans to make use of their own combat aircraft, as well as their U.S.-trained ground forces. In recent months the Afghan forces have ceded a significant amount of territory to the Taliban, raising questions about their ability to hold out after the U.S. completes its withdrawal.
At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people, urging them to assert their will on the battlefield.
“The Afghan security forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan security forces where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defense,” Milley said.
Milley said the Taliban now control about half of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan, and while they have yet to capture any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, they are pressuring about half of them. As the Taliban seize more territory, the Afghan security forces are consolidating their positions to protect key population centers, including Kabul, he said.
“A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be — strategic momentum appears to be — sort of with the Taliban,” Milley said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that after Aug. 31, which is the end date set by President Joe Biden for completing the military withdrawal, the main U.S. military focus will be on countering threats to the U.S. homeland from extremist groups inside Afghanistan. He added that the administration will provide financial and other kinds of support to Afghan defense forces, even with no combat troops or strike aircraft based there.
“Make no mistake that we remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government going forward, and we are doing what we said we were going to do in terms of putting the pieces in place to ensure that we can provide that support,” Austin said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin take part in a press briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Credit: Kevin Wolf
Credit: Kevin Wolf