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Afghanistan: United States strikes Taliban and captures equipment in support of Afghan forces

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The military has retained the power to conduct strikes in support of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) during the final stages of the US troop withdrawal, but the pace of such strikes has slowed in recent weeks. According to a defense official, the US military has carried out about six or seven strikes in the past 30 days, mostly using drones to launch the strikes. Previously, the United States launched strikes more frequently in support of Afghan forces, another defense official said.

“I can say that over the last few days we have been acting through airstrikes to support the ANDSF, but I will not go into the technical details of these strikes,” said the press secretary of the Pentagon John Kirby at a press briefing Thursday.

Three of the last four strikes have targeted captured material, an official said. This includes American equipment transferred to the ANDSF which the Taliban then captured as it progressed across the country.

This latest development is an indication of the success of the Taliban as they sweep the country, pushing back the Afghan army and seizing significant swathes of territory as the United States nears the end of its withdrawal.

The US Central Command, which is in charge of Afghanistan, recently declared that the withdrawal of US forces was over 95% complete. President Joe Biden has said the pullout will be complete by the end of August. About 650 troops are expected to remain in the country to secure the U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, including the embassy, ​​and to help secure Kabul International Airport, which is a necessary facility for the movement of diplomats.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said on Wednesday that the Taliban held around 212 or 213 of the country’s 419 districts. Although the Taliban did not capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, they had surrounded half of them in an attempt to isolate key population centers, Milley said.

“The strategic momentum seems to be sort of with the Taliban,” Milley said. The Afghan army was consolidating its forces to protect the provincial capitals and Kabul, Milley said. The Eid holiday led to a lull in the fighting, Milley added, but he noted that the situation across the country would become clearer after the holiday.

“There is a possibility of a full Taliban takeover or a possibility of a number of other scenarios, blackout, warlord, all other types of scenarios that exist. We are watching very closely, I don’t think the end of the game is over yet. written, ”he said.

The airstrikes come as the Biden administration prepares to evacuate the first group of tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families who apply for special immigrant visas (SIVs) to relocate to the United States. Many fear the Taliban for their lives because of their aid to the US military presence in Afghanistan.

At least part of the first group of 2,500 Afghans who are in the final stages of their SIV applications will be housed at Fort. Lee in Virginia, Kirby said earlier this week. The move could take place as early as next week, sources said.

Earlier this month, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan resigned as the military withdrawal draws to a close. General Austin Scott Miller transferred his powers of command to General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the US Central Command, in a ceremony in Kabul two weeks ago. The transition of command authorities is a key step in the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Miller, who was the longest-serving U.S. commander in the U.S.’s nearly two decades of military engagement in Afghanistan, has repeatedly expressed concern about the pace of the Taliban’s territorial gains and the potential for civil war. in the country after the US military campaign is over.

As he transferred his leadership responsibilities, Miller noted the escalation in violence caused by the Taliban attacks and stressed that this would not help forge a political agreement with the Afghan government.

“I am one of the officers in the US military who has had the opportunity to speak with the Taliban,” Miller said. “And I told them (…) that it is important for the military to establish the conditions for a peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan. We can all see the violence taking place across the country. But we know that ‘with this violence, what is very difficult to achieve is a political settlement.

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