Washington, Aug 18 (EFE).- The United States Armed Forces’ most senior military officer said Wednesday there was nothing to indicate Afghanistan’s government and armed forces would collapse in just 11 days as Taliban militants blitzed their way through the country.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made that assertion during a press briefing at the Pentagon alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The general acknowledged, however, that when the US was developing its withdrawal plans the intelligence reports clearly indicated that multiple scenarios were possible.
“One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government,” Milley said, adding that two other possible scenarios were a civil war and a negotiated settlement.
“However, the time frame of a rapid collapse … was widely estimated. It ranged from weeks to months and even years, following our departure,” Milley said. “There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.”
Austin, for his part, said there have been no “hostile interactions” over the past few days between the roughly 4,500 American service members now in Kabul and the Taliban and that the lines of communication remain open with insurgent commanders.
The defense secretary added that the main priority is to evacuate via Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport all Americans and the tens of thousands of Afghan civilians who had been working for many years with the US military
He added that his second focus is to maintain security at the airport, noting that US forces and their allies have established defensive positions around the air facility to achieve that objective.
The third priority, according to the Pentagon chief, is to increase the pace of evacuations out of Kabul.
Milley stressed that even though American troops have been sent to Afghanistan to guarantee the security of the airport and the success of the evacuations, “the situation is still very dangerous, very dynamic and very fluid.”
“All of us can be proud of the soldiers, sailors, airmen (and) Marines (who are) executing this mission. They are currently in harm’s way,” he said. “If we identify (threats), we will take immediate military action without hesitation, and according to our rules of engagement.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Taliban are aware of that and are “not interfering with our operations.”
“Through the State Department, the Taliban are facilitating safe passage to the airport for American citizens, that is, US passport holders,” he said.
Austin and Milley, however, were pressed on what the plan is for Afghan allies who are now trapped in Kabul and not allowed to freely make their way to the airport.
One journalist suggested the three choices the US faces are for its troops to establish a corridor for evacuating those people, to extend the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline or to “leave the tens of thousands of Afghans who’ve helped us over the past 20 years behind.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to continue to try to deconflict and create passageways for them to get to the airfield. I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” the defense secretary said. EFE