Taliban capture 6 Afghan cities, in areas where US airstrikes are rare

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The Taliban continued their advance in Afghanistan on Monday amid the US withdrawal, advancing into areas where the US military no longer carries out many airstrikes, officials said.

In just 48 hours, the Taliban captured six provincial capitals in northern and western Afghanistan.

With the closure of Bagram Air Base, the US military is now forced to fly drones, B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunships from bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The eight-hour flights leave little time over Afghanistan and require coordination from Afghan special forces on the ground, which exist in the south but not the north, where the Taliban have captured a number of towns.

Smoke rises from damaged stores after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz on Sunday, August 8, 2021.
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Smoke rises from damaged stores after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz on Sunday, August 8, 2021.
(PA)

Officials say the airstrikes are currently preventing the volatile southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand from falling into Taliban hands.

Despite the Taliban’s gains, US officials have reported no plans to step up airstrikes in Afghanistan.

“When we look back, it will depend on leadership and leadership demonstrated or not,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference Monday. “It is their country to defend now. It is their fight.”

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Senior officials from the White House National Security Council, State Department and Defense Department were in close contact with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday to assess the wider impact of the fall of Kunduz, the biggest and most important takeover of the Taliban, according to a top administration. official.

The administration official said, however, that the Biden administration remained determined to stick to its plan to end the US war in Afghanistan by the end of the month despite the Taliban’s quick strategic gains.

Kirby declined to say how many airstrikes US planes have carried out in recent days. And he declined to say whether the Biden administration could continue the airstrikes after President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal date, given the Taliban’s advance.

In the meantime, “we will continue to support them (…) where and when possible, knowing that it will not always be feasible,” Kirby said of the Afghan government and military leaders.

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The Biden administration said it would continue to support the Afghan army financially and logistically, including with contractors helping to maintain the government’s air force, outside of Afghanistan, after withdrawal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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