The nation’s top general on Wednesday expressed confidence in the Afghan security forces’ ability to fend off a takeover by the Taliban, despite significant gains by the group across the country and reports that Kabul could fall in a matter of months.
"I don’t think the end game is yet written," Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a Wednesday briefing at the Pentagon. "A negative outcome, a Taliban automatic takeover, is not a foregone conclusion."
Milley’s comments closely echoed remarks by President Joe Biden, who said this month that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is "not inevitable."
"The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable," Biden said.
But the comments seem at odds with recent intelligence assessments that the Taliban could take over the country in six to 18 months, according to one U.S. official with direct knowledge of the reports.
The Taliban have made significant territorial gains in recent months since Biden announced that the last American soldiers would leave the country by Sept. 11, a deadline he recently pushed up to Aug. 31. The group now controls 212, or roughly half, of Afghanistan’s 419 districts, Milley said, although he stressed that they have not seized any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
Milley defended the strategy of the Afghan national security forces, who he said are consolidating to protect the major population centers, where most Afghan civilians are located.
He contested the narrative that "the Taliban is winning," saying the group is "propagating an inevitable victory" and "dominating the airwaves."
While "strategic momentum appears to be with the Taliban" right now, a lot could happen over the rest of the summer, Milley said.
"We’re going to find out, the levels of violence, does it go up, does it stay the same, there’s the possibility of negotiated outcome still out there, there’s the possibility of a Taliban takeover [and] any other number of scenarios," Milley said.
While the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is on track to end by Aug. 31, the U.S. military will still support the Afghan security forces "when necessary," Milley said.