Intelligence assessments warn Afghan capital could be cut off and collapse in coming months

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Another assessment places the potential collapse within 90 days, according to another US official.

Officials warn that there are multiple assessments with different timelines.

However, such a collapse would represent a resounding defeat after the United States’ costly two-decade military campaign in Afghanistan. This would likely lead to the fall of the Afghan government and could jeopardize the U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground, which officials in the Biden administration have vowed to maintain even after the troop withdrawal ends.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he would not comment on “intelligence assessments from Afghanistan,” at the start of a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday.

Withdrawal of US embassy in Kabul under discussion, sources say as Taliban advance rapidly in Afghanistan
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“We continue to closely monitor the situation in Afghanistan,” Kirby said. “We are aware of the deteriorating security situation, and our current focus is on supporting Afghan forces on the ground where and when possible from the air, as well as on completing our withdrawal in such a way. safe and orderly. ”

There is currently no indication that the United States will evacuate its embassy. As CNN reported on Tuesday, State Department officials are discussing a further withdrawal of U.S. embassy staff, according to two sources familiar with the conversations, as the Taliban continues to gain traction in Afghanistan.

“It is obviously a difficult security environment,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday, adding that the United States’ position at the embassy had not changed at this time. “We assess the threat environment on a daily basis.”

The Taliban’s gains – which happened much faster than many U.S. officials anticipated – have made the situation more urgent and accelerated the conversations that have been going on for some time now, a source said.

The Taliban have invaded nine provincial capitals, including Kunduz, since Friday. Their capture of areas of Baghlan province, located north of Kabul, caught the attention of the United States because the location is considered essential for the defense of the capital, according to the administration official.

Afghan security personnel arrive in the area where the director of the Afghan government information center, Dawa Khan Menapal, was shot dead in Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday August 6, 2021.
The official said “conversations must take place on the way forward” for the US presence, but there is no indication that President Joe Biden is reconsidering his decision to completely withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by the end of August. .

Biden said on Tuesday that his plans for the withdrawal had not changed, saying, “We have spent over $ 1 trillion over 20 years. We have trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces. And Afghan leaders must come together. We have lost thousands – lost, dead and injured, thousands of American personnel. They must fight for themselves, fight for their nation. “

“I think they are starting to realize that they have to unite politically at the top. But we will continue to keep our commitment, but I do not regret my decision,” he added.

Kirby echoed that sentiment in his comments on Wednesday and rebuffed the suggestion that the United States was “passing the buck” for the deterioration of the situation on the ground. “No one is losing money,” he said at the Pentagon briefing.

“We have worked hard to improve Afghan skills and capabilities on the ground, but at some point, and the president has said it very clearly, at some point, those skills and capabilities must belong to the Afghans themselves.” , Kirby said.

The Pentagon spokesman added that he objected to the idea that over the past 20 years we have simply failed to improve the skills and capability of Afghan forces when we look at what ‘they do today. leadership on the battlefield and leadership in Kabul. “

All of the current “leadership problems” in Afghanistan, he said, are “problems that Afghan leaders, both military and political, must be able to resolve.”

Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said on Wednesday that the government was mainly proud of its national security forces “but there have been performances in some areas of which we are not so proud”.

“It has very little to do with the courage of our national security forces,” he said. “This has more to do with support structures, and in particular close air support – the absence of which has in fact led to the diminished ability of our forces to put up resistance.”

Atmar said Afghanistan “is experiencing probably the most massive, brutal and opportunistic military campaign, a campaign of violence and terror by the Taliban, ever in our country’s history.”

Fear and resentment reign in Afghanistan as Taliban invade more cities

He said the rise in violence began after Biden and NATO announced in April the unconditional withdrawal of their forces.

“We have already lost more than 6,000 people since mid-April, including 4,000 of our courageous national security forces and more than 2,000 civilians,” Atmar said in conversation with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute . “The number of injured is believed to rise to more than 15,000 in the past two months. This is the highest figure we have ever seen in the past two decades.”

Price said the Taliban’s levels of violence “are unacceptably high” and “inconsistent with the letter and spirit” of the 2020 US-Taliban deal.

Despite these acknowledgments, Price and other administration officials continued to push for a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The top US diplomat for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, visited Doha this week “to help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,” the State Department said on Monday.

But Khalilzad admitted last week that the Taliban feel “emboldened” by their recent military gains in the country, and Price said on Wednesday that progress towards a political settlement “has been painfully slow.”

This story was updated with additional details on Wednesday.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

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