Top general: Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war

Top general: Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war
© Greg Nash

The Taliban controls about half of the district centers in Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s top general said Wednesday, saying the insurgents appear to have “strategic momentum” as the United States withdraws from the war.

Still, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyAfghan civilian casualties hit record high amid US withdrawal Top US general won't rule out airstrikes against Taliban after withdrawal Authoritarianism: It can definitely happen here MORE expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan forces to fend off a Taliban takeover of the country.

“The two most important combat multipliers, actually, is will and leadership. And this is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan Security Forces and the government of Afghanistan,” Milley told reporters at a press briefing.

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“I don't think the end game is yet written,” Milley added.

Milley comments come as the U.S. military is about 95 percent done with its withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football MORE has set an Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to be fully out.

Critics of Biden’s withdrawal have sounded the alarm about the potential for the Taliban to overrun the Afghan government without a U.S. military presence in the country, pointing to recent Taliban gains to bolster their case.

As of Wednesday, the Taliban controls about 212 of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers, Milley said.

That's a significant jump from the 81 district centers Milley said the Taliban controlled a month ago.

“Strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban,” Milley acknowledged Wednesday.

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But, Milley added, the Taliban still does not control any provincial capitals, though he acknowledged the insurgents are “putting pressure on the outskirts of probably about half of them, 17 of them.”

“What they're trying to do is isolate the major population centers,” Milley said. “They're trying to do the same thing to Kabul.”

Still, Milley pushed back on what he said was a “narrative” the Taliban is “propagating” of their “inevitable victory.”

Milley attributed some of the Taliban’s recent gains to Afghan forces consolidating in order to protect population centers.

“Part of this is they're giving up district centers in order to consolidate their forces because they're taking an approach to protect the population,” Milley said. “And most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and the capital city of Kabul. So they are right now, as we speak, adjusting forces to consolidate into the provincial capitals and Kabul.”

He also predicted that, following a lull in violence for the Eid al-Adha holiday, the rest of the summer could be decisive for the tide of the war.

“After Eid, we're going to find out. We're going to find out the levels of violence, whether it's going to go up, stay the same,” he said. “There's a possibility of a negotiated outcome that's still out there. There's a possibility of a complete Taliban takeover, or a possibility of any number of other scenarios, breakdowns, warlord-ism, all kinds of other scenarios are out there. We're monitoring very closely.”