US keeping distance as Afghan forces face Taliban rout

Aug 11, 2021, 2:21 AM | Updated: 3:47 pm
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Aug. ...

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Afghan government forces are collapsing even faster than U.S. military leaders thought possible just a few months ago when President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal. But there’s little appetite at the White House, the Pentagon or among the American public for trying to stop the rout and it probably is too late to do so.

Biden has made clear he has no intention of reversing the decision he made last spring, even as the outcome seems to point toward a Taliban takeover. With most U.S. troops now gone and the Taliban accelerating their battlefield gains, American military leaders are not pressing him to change his mind. They know that the only significant option would be for the president to restart the war he already decided to end.

The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, captured three more provincial capitals Wednesday, giving them effective control of about two-thirds of the country. The insurgents have no air force and are outnumbered by U.S.-trained Afghan defense forces, but they have captured territory with stunning speed.

John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the Afghans still have time to save themselves from final defeat.

“No potential outcome has to be inevitable, including the fall of Kabul,” Kirby told reporters. “It doesn’t have to be that way. It really depends on what kind of political and military leadership the Afghans can muster to turn this around.”

Biden made a similar point a day earlier, telling reporters that U.S. troops had done all they could over the past 20 years to assist the Afghans.

“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he said.

The United States continues to support the Afghan military with limited airstrikes, but those have not made a strategic difference thus far and are scheduled to end when the U.S. formally ends its role in the war on Aug. 31. Biden could continue airstrikes beyond that date, but given his firm stance on ending the war, that seems unlikely.

“My suspicion, my strong suspicion, is that the 31st of August timeline’s going to hold,” said Carter Malkasian, who advised U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan and Washington.

Senior U.S. military officials had cautioned Biden that a full U.S. withdrawal could lead to a Taliban takeover, but the president decided in April that continuing the war was a waste. He said Tuesday that his decision holds, even amid talk that the Taliban could soon be within reach of Kabul, threatening the security of U.S. and other foreign diplomats.

The most recent American military assessment, taking into account the Taliban’s latest gains, says Kabul could be under insurgent pressure by September and that the country could fall entirely to Taliban control within a couple of months, according to a defense official who discussed the internal analysis Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Officials said that there has been no decision or order for an evacuation of American diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan. But one official said it is now time for serious conversations about whether the U.S. military should begin to move assets into the region to be ready in case the State Department calls for a sudden evacuation.

Kirby declined to discuss any evacuation planning, but one congressional official said a recent National Security Council meeting had discussed preliminary planning for a potential evacuation of the U.S. Embassy but came to no conclusions.

Any such plan would involve identifying U.S. troops, aircraft and other assets that may have to operate from within Afghanistan or nearby areas. The U.S. already has warships in the region, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima amphibious ready group with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard.

Military officials watching the deteriorating situation said that so far the Taliban hasn’t taken steps to threaten Kabul. But it isn’t clear if the Taliban will wait until it has gained control of the bulk of the country before attempting to seize the capital.

Military commanders have long warned that it would be a significant challenge for the Afghan military to hold off the Taliban through the end of the year. In early May, shortly after Biden announced his withdrawal decision, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he foresaw “some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes” in a worst-case scenario. He held out hope that the government would unify and hold off the Taliban, and said the outcome could clarify by the end of the summer.

The security of the U.S. diplomatic corps has been talked about for months, even before the Taliban’s battlefield blitz. The military has long had various planning options for evacuating personnel from Afghanistan. Those options would largely be determined by the White House and the State Department.

A key component of the options would be whether the U.S. military would have unfettered access to the Kabul international airport, allowing personnel to be flown systematically out of the capital. In a grimmer environment, American forces might have to fight their way in and out if the Taliban have infiltrated the city.

The U.S. also would have to determine who would be evacuated: just American embassy personnel and the U.S. military, or also other embassies, American citizens, and Afghans who worked with the U.S. In that last category are former interpreters and those who face retaliation from the Taliban. The U.S. has already started pulling out hundreds of those Afghans who assisted troops during the war.

Senior defense leaders have been talking and meeting daily, laying out their grim assessments of the security situation in Afghanistan. Officials pointed to the fall of Baghlan Province as a worrisome bellwether, because it provides the Taliban with a base and route to Kabul from the north.

AP writer Ellen Knickmeyer and AP Diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham H...
Associated Press

Blinken vows US support for Israel despite unease over govt

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. will not shrink from its unwavering support for Israel despite stark differences with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu and concerns the Biden administration may have about potential members of his incoming right-wing government. Speaking to a left-leaning group that some on the right accuse […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Farmer: Georgia dog injured saving sheep from coyote attack

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheepdog is recovering at home two days after killing a pack of coyotes that attacked his owner’s flock of sheep, farmer John Wierwiller said. Casper, a 20-month old Great Pyrenees from Decatur, fought off a pack of coyotes who were threatening Wierwiller’s sheep farm, he said. The fight lasted […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Woman injured six deputies at New Orleans airport: reports

Officials say a woman injured six sheriff’s deputies while refusing to exit a plane at an airport in Louisiana early Thanksgiving Day, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported Saturday. Authorities said the 25-year-old woman bit, kicked and spit on Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, according to local news reports. […]
1 day ago
FILE - A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. A top Euro...
Associated Press

As Musk is learning, content moderation is a messy job

Now that he’s back on Twitter, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin wants somebody to explain the rules. Anglin, the founder of an infamous neo-Nazi website, was reinstated Thursday, one of many previously banned users to benefit from an amnesty granted by Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk. The next day, Musk banished Ye, the rapper formerly known as […]
1 day ago
This image released by Universal Pictures shows David Harbour in a scene from "Violent Night." (All...
Associated Press

‘Wakanda Forever’ is No. 1 for 4th straight weekend

NEW YORK (AP) — “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” kept the box-office crown for the fourth straight weekend, and the comic holiday thriller “Violent Night” debuted with $13.3 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. But the biggest talking point on the weekend was a movie conspicuously absent from theaters. Had Netflix kept Rian Johnson’s whodunit sequel […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Atlanta house fire kills 2 during gas leak in front yard

ATLANTA (AP) — An Atlanta house fire killed two people over the weekend and the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, the agency announced Sunday. The fire involved natural gas, according to a tweet from the NTSB, which investigates pipeline mishaps. A fire department statement said crews responded to a northwest Atlanta home around 8:30 […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
US keeping distance as Afghan forces face Taliban rout