The Afghan security forces have the capacity and capabilities needed to fight and defend their country, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley said today, and the United States will continue to support those forces.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke during a Pentagon press conference alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. “The future of Afghanistan is squarely in the hands of the Afghan people,” Milley said. “And there is a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan. … A negative outcome – a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan – is not a foregone conclusion.”
The general said the United States will continue to monitor the situation there and make adjustments to the support as necessary, he said.
Milley gave a quick rundown of the situation in Afghanistan. “There very clearly is a narrative out there that the Taliban are winning – they are propagating an ‘inevitable victory’,” he said. “As of today, 212 or 213 of the district centers are in Taliban control – it’s about half of the 419 that are out there. You’ve got 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan. None of them have been seized by the Taliban, although they are putting pressure on the outskirts of about half of them.”
The provincial capitals have most of the population and the Taliban is trying to isolate the major population centers including Kabul, the general said.
The Taliban has seized a substantial swath of territory and “the strategic momentum seems to be with the Taliban, but the Afghan security forces are consolidating their forces to protect population centers,” Milley said. “They are adjusting forces to consolidate forces into the provincial capitals and Kabul. It remains to be seen what will happen. … I don’t think the endgame is yet written.”
Reporters asked Milley about comments attributed to him in a recent book. While he did not address those directly, he did emphasize that he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff always provide their best military advice to whoever is president. Any advice given to leaders was “candid, honest in every single occasion,” Milley said. “We do that all the time, every time. All of us in uniform take an oath, an oath to a document, an oath [to] the Constitution of the United States. And not one time did we violate that oath. I can say with certainty that every one of [us] maintained our oath of allegiance to that document … and we also maintained the tradition of civilian control of the military … and we also maintained the tradition of an apolitical military.”
Austin has served alongside Milley in combat. “We fought together, we served a couple of times in the same unit,” the secretary said. “I’m not guessing about his character: He doesn’t have a political bone in his body. I clearly have tremendous faith and confidence in the chairman and what I want to make sure we do is maintain our focus on the threats ahead.”