Pentagon spokesperson says Afghan forces have the military advantage but notes ‘lack of resistance’ to Taliban advance.
The United States hopes to see more resistance from the Afghan military against the Taliban, the Pentagon says, stressing that government forces in Afghanistan have the upper hand on paper despite their recent losses.
Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that Afghan forces have the tools to push against the ongoing fierce Taliban offensive.
“We want to see the will and the political leadership, the military leadership that’s required in the field. We still want to see that, and we hope to see that,” Kirby told reporters.
“But whether it happens or not, whether it pans out or not, that’s really for the Afghans to decide.”
Emboldened by the withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban has seized the capitals of 18 provinces in a week, including Herat and Kandahar, Afghanistan’s third and second largest cities. The group also appears to be closing in on the capital Kabul.
But the US administration, which is planning to remove all of its combat troops from the country by the end of the month, maintains that the Afghan government is well-equipped to fight off the Taliban onslaught without American soldiers on its side.
“They have greater numbers. They have an air force, a capable air force … They have modern equipment. They have organisational structure. They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years,” Kirby said of Afghan forces.
“They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages. It’s time now to use those advantages.”
Kirby noted what he called “the lack of resistance” that the Taliban has faced and the speed at which the group has been capturing cities, when asked if the US administration is surprised by the recent developments.
He refused to comment on the prospect of the Taliban seizing Kabul in the near future.
The Pentagon announced on Thursday that it was sending 3,000 soldiers to evacuate embassy staff and Afghan US special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants in Kabul.
The State Department had said it was drawing down its personnel in Afghanistan but stressed that the embassy in Kabul would remain open.
On Friday, Kirby said the additional troops are already on their way to Afghanistan, and the bulk of the force should be there by the end of Sunday.
“What we want to be able to do is to get there fast and get there capable and be able to provide as much capacity to the State Department as we can,” he said. “Our intention is to be able to move thousands per day.”
The military is not evacuating all Americans. Washington had urged the US citizens who do not work for the embassy to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible via commercial flights.
Earlier on Friday, the White House said President Joe Biden, who is spending the weekend at the presidential retreat of Camp David, “was briefed by members of his national security team on the ongoing efforts to safely draw down the civilian footprint in Afghanistan”.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin held a phone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday.
“The United States remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan in the face of violence by the Taliban,” the State Department said in a statement.