The New York Times on Tuesday afternoon is reporting that the Taliban has now overrun its seventh and eighth provincial capitals. Pul-e-Khumri in the north became the latest regional capital to fall. A Kabul-based Times correspondent stressed that it fell "without fighting to the Taliban, eighth city in less than a week and second in less than 24 hours." In perhaps a huge understatement, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby admitted things "clearly not going in the right direction" in Afghanistan.
Amid the US troop exit, which is said to be essentially complete, the Biden administration appears to be shrugging its shoulders, saying the US-trained Afghan forces have all that they need to repel the Taliban. "Ultimately, our view is that the Afghan security forces have the equipment, numbers and training to fight back that will strengthen their position at the negotiating table," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
#BlameGameOnPakistan— Sher Ghazi (@SherGhazi) August 10, 2021
Today is the second and in 8 days the eighth provincial capital
The Taliban also captured Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan, located in the city center. pic.twitter.com/uXZ01nEboJ
When officials start talking about gaining leverage at the "negotiating table" it means they foresee that defeat is imminent.
There's widespread reports of mass desertions of posts, retreating Afghan troops, and deals struck with the Taliban to handover villages and cities with very little resistance on the ground.
Kirby on Monday was asked point blank during a Pentagon briefing about the US stepping up airstrikes. He denied that this was the case, and conceded there's "not much" to be done at this point, strongly suggesting that even Kabul's fall is coming soon.
"The answer to that question is 'not much'," Kirby said when pressed over possible actions to stave off defeat...
"I mean, if – if – if it, - the –we don’t have forces on the ground in partnership with them, and we – we can’t - we – we will certainly support from the air, where feasible, but that’s no substitute for leaders on the ground, it’s no substitute for political leadership in Kabul, it’s no substitute for using the capabilities and capacity that we know they have," Kirby added.
He was further asked why US-trained forces were being beaten at a rapid pace, to which he responded by saying it's a question for "top Afghan officials in Kabul and in the field, not the department of defense."
The Taliban now controls the majority of the geographic country: "Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghan territory, are threatening to take 11 provincial capitals and are trying to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior EU official said on Tuesday," Reuters reports Tuesday.
"The government has withdrawn forces from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding major population centres, while officials have appealed for pressure on neighbouring Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the porous border. Pakistan denies backing the Taliban," the report adds.