U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday 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, APA reports quoting Reuters.
"They are consolidating their forces around the key population centers," Austin told reporters during a visit to Alaska.
"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."
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.