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Milley: Taliban takeover of Afghanistan 'not a foregone conclusion'

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley held a joint press conference on Wednesday where they touted the Afghan military’s ability to thwart the Taliban. Pool File Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/UPI
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley held a joint press conference on Wednesday where they touted the Afghan military’s ability to thwart the Taliban. Pool File Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- The United States' top military leaders on Wednesday touted Afghanistan's abilities to prevent the Taliban from taking over as the militant terrorist group has made territorial advances amid the United States' withdrawal from the war-torn country.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a press conference with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that despite the narrative that the Taliban is winning, the Afghan Security Forces "have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country."

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"A negative outcome, a Taliban automatic military takeover, is not a foregone conclusion," he said. "We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make adjustments as necessary."

The United States began its drawdown from the Middle Eastern country in early May, which is at 95% complete with a deadline of Aug. 31. Amid the withdrawal, the Taliban has been making territorial gains.

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Milley said the militant organization has gained control of about half of Afghanistan's 420 districts, so "strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban."

However, none of the nation's 34 provincial capitals have been seized, he said.

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"There clearly is a narrative out there that the Taliban are winning," he said. "In fact, they are propagating an inevitable victory on their behalf, they're dominating a lot of the airwaves."

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The militant organization has been "putting pressure" on the outskirts of 17 of the provincial capital with the plan to isolate major population centers, but the Afghan military is capable of keeping them at bay, he said.

"The Afghan Security Forces, though, are consolidating their forces," he said. "So part of this is they're giving up district centers in order to consolidate their forces because they're taking an approach to protect the population, and most of the population lives in the provincial capitals and the capital city of Kabul."

The defense of the country, he said, is up to the Afghan people.

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"There's other factors that determine outcomes," he said. "The two most important combat multipliers actually is will and leadership. And this is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan Security Forces and the government of Afghanistan."

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