Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday at the Pentagon they don’t have the answers “yet” when asked how they will prevent the Taliban from taking over Kabul after U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.
“We are hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play a major role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said, but admitted, “This will be a challenge for them.”
It was the first time the two appeared together at a press conference since the inauguration and since President Joe Biden announced the remaining 3,200 U.S. troops would be withdrawing.
Milley said the Pentagon is still figuring out how to support Afghanistan without the U.S. military there on the ground.
“The intent is to keep an embassy open and to keep supporting the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces,” Milley said. “But no, we haven’t figured that out 100-percent yet.”
The withdrawal of U.S. troops began May 1. The U.S. closed a major base in volatile Helmand Province this week and the Taliban are already advancing.
After warning recently about “bad possible outcomes” after the U.S. military leaves, Milley revised his assessment about whether Kabul will automatically fall.
“It’s not a forgone conclusion,” he said. “The key is the Afghan Air Force.”
MCCONNELL PREDICTS TALIBAN COULD BE RUNNING AFGHANISTAN BY THE END OF THE YEAR
But as the U.S. forces withdraw, so do the 6,000 American contractors who keep the Afghan Air Force in the air. Few think the Afghans will be able to stop the Taliban without the support of those contractors.
To protect the U.S. troops coming out of Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Austin ordered the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower to remain on station nearby to protect US forces, just in case the Taliban attack.
A B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrives May 4, 2021, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Two additional bombers arrived May 4, joining the four B-52 aircraft that arrived in late April to protect the orderly and responsible withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Erwi
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