Top U.S. defense and military officials are holding out hope the Afghan government will be able to withstand the latest Taliban military offensive, launched days ago as U.S. and coalition troops began leaving the country.
Provincial officials from across Afghanistan have warned of mounting losses in a series of attacks, some with heavy casualties, since the United States officially began its withdrawal on May 1. But the Pentagon insisted Thursday that the withdrawal was “going according to plan,” with no surprises.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I’m a personal witness … that the Afghan security forces can fight,” Milley, who had previously served in Afghanistan, added. “We’ve been supporting them, for sure, but they’ve been leading the fight.”
Speaking alongside Milley, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also voiced some confidence in the ability of the Afghan military.
“We’ve seen an instance of that, in Lashkar Gah [in Helmand province], the Afghan security forces conducting a counterattack and performing fairly well,” Austin told reporters. “We’re hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play the major role in stopping the Taliban.”
According to local Afghan officials and some aid workers on the ground, however, the Taliban offensive has been…