The country’s top general on Wednesday expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan security forces to push back a Taliban takeover, despite the group’s significant gains across the country and said Kabul could fall within months.
"I don’t think the end of the game is written yet," General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. "A negative result, an automatic takeover of the Taliban, is not a given."
Milley’s comments echoed remarks by President Joe Biden, who said this month that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is "not inevitable."
"Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped – as well-equipped as any army in the world – and an air force against some 75,000 Taliban. It’s not inevitable," Biden said.
But the comments appear to contradict recent intelligence assessments that the Taliban could take control of the country in six to 18 months, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the reports.
The Taliban have made significant territorial gains in recent months since Biden announced that the last U.S. troops would leave the country by September 11, a deadline he recently pushed back to August 31. The group now controls 212, or about half, of Afghanistan. 419 districts, Milley said, although he pointed out that they had not seized any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
Milley has defended the strategy of the Afghan national security forces, which he says are consolidating to protect major population centers, where most Afghan civilians are located.
He took issue with the account that "the Taliban win," say that the group is "spread an inevitable victory" and "dominating the waves."
While "the strategic momentum seems to be with the Taliban" right now, a lot could happen over the rest of the summer, Milley said.
"We are going to find out, the levels of violence, is it increasing, does it stay the same, there is always the possibility of a negotiated result, there is the possibility of a takeover by the Taliban [and] any other number of scenarios," Milley said.
As the US combat mission in Afghanistan is set to end by August 31, the US military will still support Afghan security forces "when it’s necessary," Milley said.