US may slow down Afghanistan exit, warns Pentagon

By: AFP
Published: 07:41 AM, 22 Jun, 2021
US may slow down Afghanistan exit, warns Pentagon
Caption: Pentagon spokesman Kirby.
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The US military could slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan due to the gains made by the Taliban insurgents, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

Kirby stressed that President Joe Biden's deadline of a full withdrawal by September remains in place, but added that the pace could be adjusted based on conditions.

"The situation in Afghanistan changes as the Taliban continue to conduct these attacks and to raid district centers as well as the violence, which is still too high," he told reporters.

"If there needs to be changes made to the pace, or to the scope and scale of the retrograde, on any given day or in any given week, we want to maintain the flexibility to do that," he said.

"We're constantly taking a look at this, every single day: what's the situation on the ground, what capabilities do we have, what additional resources do we need to move out of Afghanistan and at what pace." 

"All of these decisions are literally being made in real time," he added.

Pentagon officials said last week that the withdrawal, ordered by Biden in April after nearly two decades fighting Al-Qaeda and helping government forces battle the Taliban, is around half completed.

At the time of Biden's order around 2,500 US troops and 16,000 contractors, mostly US citizens, were in the country. The Pentagon has already turned over several of its key bases to government security forces, and has removed hundreds of cargo plane-loads of equipment.

Kirby said US forces continue to support Afghan troops in fighting the Taliban. "So long as we have the capability in Afghanistan, we will continue to provide assistance to Afghan forces," he said.

"But as the retrograde gets closer to completion, those capabilities will wane and will no longer be available."

Taliban, Afghan forces clash

The Taliban and Afghan forces clashed Monday on the outskirts of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, with the insurgents claiming to have captured three districts in the region in a week.

The Taliban have launched major offensives targeting government forces since early May when the US military began its final troop withdrawal, and claim to have seized more than 50 of the country's 421 districts.

Many of their claims are disputed by the government, and independent verification is difficult -- especially in areas that frequently change hands.

"The Taliban fighters are at the gates of the city and they are fighting Afghan forces," said Amruddin Wali, a Kunduz provincial council member.

He said the insurgents have also taken up positions on highways that connect Kunduz city to neighbouring provinces.

On Monday, the Taliban claimed they had captured the Imam Sahib district of the province, the third to be taken in a week.

Kunduz police spokesman Inamuddin Rahmani confirmed the fighting, and said his forces had killed about 50 Taliban fighters in the past 24 hours.

Both the Taliban and Afghan forces frequently exaggerate casualties inflicted on each other.

The Taliban said they have not launched an offensive on the city of Kunduz itself.

"We have launched operations around the city," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The Taliban have repeatedly attempted to capture the city, located not far from the border with Tajikistan.

The insurgents briefly held Kunduz twice before -- in September 2015, and again a year later.

Kunduz, with a significant population of Pashtun, had been a stronghold of the Taliban before the militants seized power in the 1990s.

The city's location makes it a key transit point for economic and trade exchanges with Tajikistan.

In recent weeks the insurgents have focused on capturing territory in northern Afghanistan, and security forces have largely failed to stop their assaults. 

The insurgents claim to have captured several districts in the northern provinces of Faryab, Takhar and Badakhshan, forcing military leaders to strategically retreat from a number of areas.

The defence ministry confirmed that government troops had retreated from several districts but said they aimed to take them back.

The Taliban are now present in almost every province and are encircling several major cities -- a strategy the militants employed in the mid-1990s when they overran most of Afghanistan until they were ousted by invading US-led forces.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.