US commander in Afghanistan warns of risk of civil war as security deteriorates ahead of final withdrawal

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The top US military commander in Afghanistan said security across the country was deteriorating just weeks before the last US forces withdrew.

General Scott Miller, in a rare briefing Tuesday, said the Taliban’s recent gains are of great concern, although not unexpected.

“The security situation is not good at the moment,” he told a small group of journalists at the rapidly emptying coalition headquarters in Kabul. “Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the course it is currently on. It should be of concern to the world.”

In recent weeks, nearly a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts have fallen to the Taliban as the Islamist movement gathered momentum after President Biden announced in April that all US troops would have left by the 11th. September.

General Miller declined to say when exactly the departure of US forces would be over, citing operational security reasons. The U.S. military has already withdrawn more than half of its equipment and personnel and is expected to complete the withdrawal by mid-July, officials said.

Afghan national security forces, funded by billions of dollars in US aid over the years, have so far failed to stop the Taliban’s advances. In many cases, Afghan troops surrendered without a fight, leaving the Humvees and US-supplied weapons to the Taliban.

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A recent US intelligence assessment, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, concluded that the government of Afghanistan could fall within six months of the departure of the US military.

General Miller, who has commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan since September 2018 and previously led U.S. special operations in the country, reiterated that only a political solution will end the war in Afghanistan. Yet he warned: “If you don’t reduce the violence, this political solution becomes more and more difficult.

Afghan and American officials said Afghan security forces had successfully recaptured some districts in recent days. Mohammad Afzal Hadid, the head of the Balkh provincial council, said part of Kaldar district, which shares a border with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, was recaptured by Afghan security forces on Tuesday. The offensive was carried out by the Afghan regular forces in conjunction with militias loyal to the powerful former governor of Balkh, Atta Mohammad Noor, he said.

According to Mr. Hadid, the police and the district governor’s office in Kaldar are now controlled by Afghan forces. “Fighting is going on right now to clean up the district,” he said.

Kaldar fell to the Taliban three days ago, and Afghan forces deployed there have fled across the Amu-Darya River into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Major General Khanullah Shuja, the new commander of the 209th Shaheen Corps in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif, said his command plans to retake other strategically valuable quarters from the Taliban in the coming days. .

Over the years, US military advisers have urged the Afghan government to focus its efforts on combating the Taliban in important districts, around towns and major highways, leaving the Taliban with less strategically valuable districts in the city. more rural areas. This recommendation is even more important now that the resources of the Afghan government are dwindling. The country’s new defense minister, General Bismillah Khan, has started executing this strategy, General Miller said.

Mr. Biden was unequivocal that only a unit assigned to protect the US embassy in Kabul will remain in Afghanistan. A new commander, more junior than a four-star general, should lead this unit, General Miller said.

Ultimately, this unit could number several hundred soldiers, ensuring the security of the embassy and its staff while maintaining a very limited advisory capacity, officials said. But the US military mission will essentially be over, and the bulk of US support to the Afghan government and security forces will come in the form of billions of dollars in aid. Afghan forces could receive this assistance outside the country, including through distance training, officials said.

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The security of Kabul International Airport remains essential to maintaining the American presence at the Embassy. The Turkish government has agreed in principle to keep hundreds of troops at the airport and to conduct its air operations in return for US financial support and other conditions. This deal is yet to be concluded, however, and could fail, forcing most major airlines to stop flying to the Afghan capital.

General Miller, who is the longest-serving US commander since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was asked on Tuesday about the legacy of the US role in the conflict in Afghanistan and whether US policy here had been a failure. .

“The legacy will be written by the future,” replied General Miller. “As we go along, the future will tell the rest of the story.”

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