As Taliban Captures Cities, U.S. Says Afghan Forces Must Fend for Themselves

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The muted American effect to the Taliban siege shows successful nary uncertain presumption that the U.S. warfare successful Afghanistan is over.

Afghans inspected damaged shops aft  warring  betwixt  Taliban and Afghan information    forces successful  Kunduz city, bluish   Afghanistan, connected  Sunday.
Credit...Abdullah Sahil/Associated Press

Aug. 8, 2021, 7:14 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — If the Taliban had seized 3 provincial capitals successful bluish Afghanistan a twelvemonth ago, similar they did connected Sunday, the American effect would astir apt person been ferocious. Fighter jets and chopper gunships would person responded successful force, beating backmost the Islamist radical or, astatine the precise least, stalling its advance.

But these are antithetic times. What craft the U.S. subject could muster from hundreds of miles distant struck a cache of weapons acold from Kunduz, Taliqan oregon Sari-i-pol, the cities that already had been each but mislaid to the Taliban.

The muted American effect connected Sunday showed successful nary uncertain presumption that America’s 20-year warfare successful Afghanistan is over. The mismanaged and exhausted Afghan forces volition person to retake the cities connected their own, oregon permission them to the Taliban for good.

The caller drawstring of Taliban subject victories has not moved President Biden to reassess his determination to end the U.S. combat mission by the extremity of the month, elder medication officials said Sunday. But the unit shows conscionable however hard it volition beryllium for Mr. Biden to extract America from the warfare portion insisting that helium is not abandoning the state successful the mediate of a brutal Taliban offensive.

In a code defending the U.S. withdrawal past month, Mr. Biden said the United States had done much than capable to empower the Afghan constabulary and subject to unafraid the aboriginal of their people. U.S. officials person acknowledged that those forces volition struggle, but reason they indispensable present fend for themselves.

So far, the administration’s sink-or-swim strategy has not shown promising results.

Over the past week, Taliban fighters person moved swiftly to retake cities astir Afghanistan, assassinated authorities officials, and killed civilians successful the process. Throughout this, American officials person publically held retired anticipation that Afghan forces person the resources and quality to combat back, portion astatine the aforesaid clip negotiating a peace woody with the Taliban that seems much improbable by the day.

Leon E. Panetta, who served arsenic defence caput nether President Barack Obama, said helium had expected to spot much U.S. aerial enactment connected Sunday, but helium did not expect the concern would amended markedly adjacent with the assistance of American forces.

“Let’s look it,” Mr. Panetta said. “The astir you tin anticipation for present is immoderate benignant of stalemate” betwixt Afghan forces and Taliban fighters, who person demonstrated small involvement successful reaching an accord since the American unit withdrawal was announced.

At the Pentagon, wherever elder leaders person reluctantly chopped disconnected astir subject enactment to Afghanistan, officials were connected telephone calls Sunday astir the unfolding events astir Kunduz, a metropolis of much than 350,000 people. The United States has doubly successful the past intervened to retake Kunduz from the Taliban.

But defence officials said determination were nary plans to instrumentality enactment this clip beyond constricted airstrikes. Over the past 3 weeks, the United States has utilized equipped Reaper drones and AC-130 aerial gunships to people Taliban equipment, including dense artillery, that endanger colonisation centers, overseas embassies and Afghan authorities buildings, officials said.

One authoritative acknowledged that with lone 650 American troops remaining connected the crushed successful Afghanistan, a concerted aerial run was improbable to undo the advances the Taliban had made.

Although the American subject ngo volition formally reason astatine the extremity of this month, American troops and their Western allies are mostly gone already. The U.S. handed implicit Bagram Air Base — erstwhile the military’s nervus halfway — to the Afghans past month, efficaciously ending large U.S. subject operations.

Now, aerial enactment for the Afghan forces and overhead surveillance arrives from extracurricular the country, from bases successful Qatar oregon the United Arab Emirates, oregon from an craft bearer successful the Arabian Sea.

Wesley Clark, the erstwhile apical NATO wide nether President Bill Clinton, called the weekend’s events “a calamity for the radical of Afghanistan, and a effect of American misjudgments and failures.”

Civilian casualties person skyrocketed. Nearly 2,400 civilians person been killed oregon injured betwixt May 1 and June 30, according to a United Nations study released past month, the highest fig recorded for that play since monitoring began successful 2009.

When asked astir the Taliban’s advances connected Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House property secretary, told reporters that Mr. Biden had agelong been prepared to marque “difficult choices” arsenic portion of his committedness to disengaging from Afghanistan.

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Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

“The president made clear: After 20 years astatine war, it’s clip for American troops to travel home,” Ms. Psaki said. “He besides feels and has stated that the Afghan authorities and the Afghan National Defense Forces person the training, instrumentality and numbers to prevail, and present is the infinitesimal for the enactment and the volition successful the look of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.”

Ms. Psaki’s comments echoed a prevailing presumption among the progressive nationalist information helping of Mr. Biden’s enactment that Afghan troops would combat backmost if fixed nary different option.

“Like successful Iraq, astatine a definite constituent the grooming wheels person to travel off,” said Jon Soltz, an Iraq warfare seasoned and the president of the progressive veterans radical VoteVets. “That’s erstwhile the Iraqi Army stepped up, and it volition beryllium erstwhile the Afghan Army does.”

“They whitethorn person their backs against the partition arsenic things determination person to Kabul, but that’s precisely erstwhile they’ll combat the hardest and clasp the line,” said Mr. Soltz, who helped to bid the Iraqi army. “We person done each we tin to hole them for this moment.”

So far, nary elder Pentagon authoritative has expressed exasperation publically with Mr. Biden implicit the Taliban surge, which Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III predicted this past spring, erstwhile helium and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, some counseled Mr. Biden against the implicit withdrawal of American troops.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Mr. Austin told his boss, successful a notation to the Obama-era withdrawal from Iraq, which was followed by the emergence of the Islamic State. The United States ended up returning to Iraq and launching 5 years of airstrikes successful Iraq and Syria to assistance Iraqi information forces bushed backmost that insurgent group.

Mr. Biden has argued for pulling retired of Afghanistan for years. In 2009, portion serving arsenic vice president, helium argued for a minimal force, lone to beryllium overruled arsenic Mr. Obama ordered a surge of forces, past a accelerated drawdown.

But a twelve years later, arsenic president, helium made the determination to withdraw, 1 of the astir important decisions of his presidency truthful far. And contempt the likelihood that the White House volition face unspeakable images of quality suffering and nonaccomplishment successful the coming weeks and months, Mr. Biden has vowed to property up careless of the conditions connected the ground.

Polls amusement that ample numbers of Americans successful some parties enactment leaving Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden, declaring that the United States had agelong agone accomplished its ngo of denying terrorists a haven successful Afghanistan, said successful April that each American troops would permission the country by Sept. 11. That day has since been moved up to Aug. 31, giving the Pentagon — and Afghan forces — conscionable implicit a period to dilatory the Taliban surge.

Administration and subject officials person voiced conflicting views connected whether the United States volition proceed airstrikes aft Aug. 31 to forestall Afghan cities and the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, from falling. But adjacent if the airstrikes continue, they tin lone bash truthful much; the bulk of the effort volition person to travel from Afghan forces connected the ground.

In immoderate event, Kunduz was ne'er going to beryllium the Afghan metropolis that mightiness punctual Mr. Biden to rethink his strategy, 2 U.S. officials said connected Sunday connected information of anonymity.

His manus mightiness beryllium forced if Taliban forces are connected the verge of overrunning Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, oregon adjacent Kabul, wherever the United States maintains an embassy with immoderate 4,000 people.

Helene Cooper and Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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