Taliban warning: Insurgents could ‘completely take over’ Afghanistan, warns top US general

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters capture US military equipment

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Meanwhile Washington fears the Kabul government could collapse within six months in what would be a major headache for President Joe Biden. Speaking yesterday, Mr Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted the Taliban appeared to have “strategic momentum”.

He told a news conference: “There’s a possibility of a complete Taliban takeover or a possibility of any number of other scenarios. I don’t think the endgame is yet written.”

Reeling from a surge in battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and US officials said.

The risky strategy will inevitably cede territory to Taliban insurgents.

Officials claim it is a militarily necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country.

Mr Milley said such an approach would involve “giving up district centers” to protect larger population centre, such the capital.

The consolidation of forces, which has been publicly acknowledged but not reported in such detail before, coincides with the US military withdrawal ahead of a formal end to the military mission on August 31, on orders from President Joe Biden.

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Taliban insurgents are gaining control of more and more territory, which the Pentagon estimated on Wednesday now extends to over half of half Afghanistan’s district centres.

The Taliban are also putting pressure on the outskirts of half of the provincial capitals, trying to isolate them.

US intelligence assessments indicate the Afghan government could fall in as little as six months.

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One Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the “reorientation” of troops would help Afghanistan hold strategic territory and defend infrastructure, including a dam built with India’s assistance, and major highways.

But consolidating troops also means leaving other areas unguarded in a move unlikely to go down well will Afghan communities and ethnic groups likely to feel they are being abandoned to the Taliban.

The Afghan official said: “How do you communicate this to a public that has been jittery – and understandably so – over the past few weeks in which the Taliban have been taking over districts?

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“Because a major part of this reorientation would entail, at least in the short term, the Taliban filling in the vacuum that we’re leaving behind.”

US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, which oversees US forces in Afghanistan and support to Afghan troops, said the Afghans knew they had to pick their battles.

He explained: “You can’t defend everything. If you defend everywhere, you defend nowhere. So I think the Afghans realise they need to consolidate.”

The Afghan ministry of defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Taliban’s swift territorial gains are rattling Afghans just as the United States withdraws from a war which succeeded in punishing al Qaeda following its September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington but failed to deliver anything close to peace for Afghanistan.

Mr Biden has promised to provide financial assistance to Afghan forces and to redouble diplomatic efforts to revive stalled peace talks.

But the Taliban have not responded to calls from 15 diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Afghanistan on Monday to halt their military offensives.

The insurgents and the Afghan government also failed to agree on a ceasefire at talks in Doha for this week’s Eid holidays.

In the past, the Taliban have called short ceasefires for Eid, saying they wanted to let Afghans spend them in peace.

US military officials fear the Taliban are seeking to end the war with a battlefield victory, instead of at the negotiating table.

More than a quarter-million Afghans have been forced from their homes this year, according to the United Nations.

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