Afghan forces’ first job is to slow Taliban's momentum: US
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that the Afghan security forces' first task was to make sure they could slow the Taliban's momentum before attempting to retake territory, as thousands of Afghans who are eligible for a US evacuation now face it very difficult to get into Kabul.
There are reports that Afghanistan's military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate troops around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure.
"They are consolidating their forces around the key population centres," Austin told reporters during a visit to Alaska on Saturday. "In terms of whether or not it will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum," Austin said, speaking as the US military is set to end its mission in Afghanistan on August 31, on orders from President Joe Biden.
Austin added that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress, but "we'll see what happens."
The politically perilous strategy appears to be a military necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country.
Taliban insurgents are gaining control of more and more territory, which the Pentagon estimated on Wednesday now extends to over half of Afghanistan's district centres. The Taliban are also putting pressure on the outskirts of half of the provincial capitals, trying to isolate them.
The Taliban's swift territorial gains are rattling Afghans just as the United States withdraws from a war that succeeded in punishing Al-Qaeda following its Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington but failed to deliver anything close to peace for Afghanistan.
The United States has continued to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan government forces that have been under pressure from the Taliban as US-led foreign forces carry out the final stages of their withdrawal from the country.
Biden has promised to provide financial assistance to Afghan forces and to redouble diplomatic efforts to revive stalled peace talks.
Biden on Friday authorized up to $100 million from an emergency fund to meet "unexpected urgent" refugee needs stemming from the situation in Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa applicants. read more
The Biden administration this week emailed hundreds of Afghans who worked for the US government telling them to prepare for evacuation to the US in coming days, and has promised others will be flown to a third country soon. But the Afghans have to make their way to the capital of Kabul on their own in order to be evacuated.
With the Taliban advancing against Afghan security forces in every corner of the country as US troops withdraw, several Afghans who are eligible for a US visa told NBC News they fear they will be stranded in far-flung towns and are struggling to find the money and means to get themselves and their families to Kabul.
Afghans contacted by the US government and offered flights to a military base in Virginia “have reached out to us begging for help because they do not have the resources to fly to Kabul,” said Chris Purdy, project manager for Veterans for American Ideals at Human Rights First.