President Joe Biden and other officials have repeatedly called for Afghan leaders to unite and fashion a clear strategy amid mounting worries that the insurgents could besiege Kabul within months.
“We spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces,” Biden said on Tuesday after the Taliban captured several more provincial capitals with little resistance.
“Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden said. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
Ahead of the completion of the US withdrawal on August 31, the Pentagon and the State Department closely echoed Biden’s words, expressing concerns over the Taliban’s gains in the absence of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops for the first time since the 2001 invasion.
“The Afghan forces have the capability, they have the capacity, they have numerical advantage, they have an air force,” said Defense Department spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday. “It’s really going to come down to the leadership and the will to use those capabilities.”
Surprise at Taliban advance
Privately, US officials express surprise at the speed of the Taliban’s advance.
The US has conducted bombing runs over the past two weeks to aid Afghan forces, possibly helping repulse the insurgents in Lashkar Gah in the south and Herat in the west.
But the Taliban have easily swept through several key cities in the north and now menace the strategic Mazar-i-Sharif.
US officials stress the results could be different if President Ashraf Ghani could unite his government and act decisively.
“The Afghan Government has tremendous leverage … 300,000 troops, an air force, special forces, heavy equipment, training, a commitment of partnership, continued support from the United States,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
“There is unfortunately a sense of stasis, a freeze of government,” said Andrew Watkins of the International Crisis Group, a transnational non-profit organisation.
Money and supplies are not flowing out to the regions and local security forces, Watkins said, leaving them more open to the Taliban.
“The one thing they do know is that they have not been getting sufficient support from their government.”