The United States’ top general in Afghanistan on Tuesday gave a sobering assessment of the country’s deteriorating security situation as the US winds down its so-called “forever war”.
General Austin Miller said the rapid loss of districts around the country to the Taliban — several with significant strategic value — is worrisome. He also cautioned that the militias deployed to help the beleaguered national security forces could lead the country into civil war.
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Miller told a small group of reporters in the Afghan capital that for now, he has the weapons and the capability to aid Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces.
Only a political solution will bring peace to the war-tortured nation, he said.
“It is a political settlement that brings peace to Afghanistan. And it’s not just the last 20 years. It’s really the last 42 years,” he said.
Miller was referring to not only the US war, but to Russia’s 10-year occupation that ended in 1989. That conflict was followed by a brutal civil war fought by some of the same Afghan leaders deploying militias against the Taliban. The civil war gave rise to the Taliban, which took power in 1996.
US officials have said the pullout of US troops will most likely be completely finished by July 4 with a residual force remaining to protect the US embassy and international airport in Kabul.
Miller refused to give any date or timeframe, referring only to the September timeline given by US President Joe Biden in April when he announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 3,500 American troops.
Biden met with Afghan leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah at the White House last week to demonstrate the continuing US commitment to Afghanistan.
“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending,” Biden said in an Oval Office meeting with Ghani and Abdullah.
The Taliban has been overrunning Afghanistan’s districts in rapid succession, many of them in the north of the country, which is dominated by Afghanistan’s minorities. The north is the traditional stronghold of many former mujahedeen leaders who have been a dominant force in Afghanistan since driving the Taliban from power in 2001 together with the US-led coalition.
Several of the districts have been on key roads and one is on the border with northern Tajikistan. The Taliban have issued statements saying hundreds of Afghan security forces have surrendered, most of them going to their homes after receiving transportation money from the Taliban.
The Kabul government has launched a “national mobilisation” in response, arming local volunteers and resurrecting militia groups to take on the Taliban.
Taliban fighters on Tuesday launched an attack on the central Afghanistan city of Ghazni, clashing with government forces and using explosives in an attempt to seize the city, according to local officials.
The Taliban have had a presence in the province of Ghazni for years. Fierce clashes intensified near security checkpoints in the Shaikh Ajal and Ganj area of Ghazni city, forcing shopkeepers to shut the main market.
Miller said there are multiple reasons for the collapse of districts, including the fatigue of the troops and their psychological defeat and military loss. But he said escalating violence risks the country falling into a deadly civil war.
“As we start talking about ‘How does this all end?’, the way it must end for the Afghan people is something that revolves around a political solution,” said Miller.
“I’ve also said that if you don’t reduce the violence, that political solution becomes more and more difficult.”
Miller refused to say where the US and its NATO allies were in the withdrawal process.
He said his time as the head of the US’s military mission in Afghanistan was coming to an end, without giving a date.
Miller wouldn’t speculate on the legacy of the US’s longest war, saying it will be for history to decide.