Austin tells Afghanistan to focus on slowing insurgents

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Defense Secretary says that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress, reports Asian Lite News

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the Afghan security forces’ first job was to make sure they could slow the Taliban’s momentum before attempting to retake territory, as Afghan forces plan to consolidate forces around strategically important parts of the country.

Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure.

“They are consolidating their forces around the key population centers. In terms of whether or not it will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum,” Austin said, speaking as the U.S. military is set to end its mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, on orders from President Joe Biden.

Austin added that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress, but “we’ll see what happens.”

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The politically perilous strategy appears to be a military necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country.

Taliban insurgents are gaining control of more and more territory, which the Pentagon estimated on Wednesday now extends to over half of half Afghanistan’s district centers. The Taliban are also putting pressure on the outskirts of half of the provincial capitals, trying to isolate them.

The Taliban’s swift territorial gains are rattling Afghans just as the United States withdraws from a war that succeeded in punishing al Qaeda following its Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington but failed to deliver anything close to peace for Afghanistan.

The United States has continued to carry out air strikes to support Afghan government forces that have been under pressure from the Taliban as U.S.-led foreign forces carry out the final stages of their withdrawal from the country.

Biden has promised to provide financial assistance to Afghan forces and to redouble diplomatic efforts to revive stalled peace talks.

Biden on Friday authorized up to $100 million from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs stemming from the situation in Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa applicants.

For years, the U.S. military has been trying to get Afghan troops off of far-flung checkpoints – static positions that can easily be overrun by Taliban forces.

Members of the Afghan security force take part in an operation in Jawzjan province, Afghanistan. (Xinhua_Mohammad Jan Aria_IANS)

UN warns of expanding threat from Daesh, al Qaeda

The United Nations has warned that the threat from terror groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda is expanding in many places in Afghanistan and said the security situation remains fragile with uncertainty surrounding the peace process and a risk of further deterioration.

A new report by the UN Security Council, published on Thursday, said that despite territorial, leadership, manpower and financial losses during 2020 in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, Daesh’s Khorasan branch, or ISIL-K, has moved into other provinces of Afghanistan, including Nuristan, Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz and Kabul, where the fighters have formed sleeper cells, Tolo News reported.

According to the report, the group has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it conducts most of its attacks, targeting minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Most recently, Daesh had claimed responsibility for the brutal attack of June 8, wherein 10 humanitarian deminers working with HALO Trust in Baghlan Province were killed and 16 others were injured, it said.

As per Tolo News, in its efforts to resurge, the ISIL-K has prioritised the recruitment and training of new supporters; its leaders also hope to attract intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the US and the Taliban and to recruit fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, and other conflict zones.

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