America’s top military general says the Taliban appear to have "strategic momentum" in their sweeping offensives across Afghanistan, as the militants continue to gain more ground in the war-ravaged country.
Head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley made the remark at a press conference on Wednesday, but speculated that the Taliban's victory was far from assured despite the fact that the militants claim to have seized scores of districts and border crossings as well as a string of vital provincial capitals.
Milley said the Taliban militants now controlled about half of Afghanistan's roughly 400 districts. However, he said, they have none of the country's densely-populated main cities.
The US general said Afghan troops were "consolidating their forces" to protect the major urban centers, as the militants are putting pressure on the outskirts of around half of the country's provincial capitals.
"They're taking an approach to protect the population, and most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and capital city of Kabul," Milley said.
"A Taliban automatic military takeover is not a foregone conclusion," he added.
Last month, Milley said the Taliban controlled 81 district centers in Afghanistan.
The Kabul government has accused the Taliban of destroying hundreds of government buildings in 29 of the country's 34 provinces. The Taliban have denied accusations of causing extensive destruction.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has also said that a Taliban takeover is "not inevitable." But he warned earlier this month that Afghans must come together against the militants. He also admitted that it was "highly unlikely" that one unified government would end up controlling the entire country.
The Taliban held another round of talks with the Kabul government in the Qatari capital, Doha, over the weekend, amid intensified attacks across Afghanistan.
Peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul have made very little progress so far. Milley said the chance of a negotiated political settlement was "still out there," adding that "the end game is yet [to be] written."
No formal truce was even declared for the Muslim occasion of Eid al-Adha, with the Taliban instead saying that they would remain "in defense status" during the holiday. This is while the Taliban and Kabul had previously announced ceasefires during Muslim holidays.
US-led foreign forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan after some two decades of war and occupation. The US and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext that the Taliban were harboring al-Qaeda, which had just carried out the so-called 9/11 attacks in the US. The invasion removed the Taliban from power, but it worsened the security situation in the country.
The Taliban are now intensifying their attacks amid the US pullout. Many have blamed the US and its NATO allies for the surge in violence in Afghanistan, saying they have failed to stabilize the security situation in the country.