The United States has continued limited air support to Afghan national security forces in recent days, launching a half-dozen airstrikes as Taliban fighters stepped up an offensive in the country’s south before the full withdrawal of American troops ordered by President Joe Biden.
Even so, Afghan ground commanders are asking for more help from U.S. warplanes, exposing a stark reality of the war there: Even in the twilight days of the U.S. involvement, the Afghan dependency on U.S. pilots and warplanes as backup is unquestionable.
The Pentagon is now weighing how it will wean Afghan security forces from their dependency, something that it has failed to do since 2015, when the United States formally ended its combat mission in the country. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested that it would be up to Gen. Austin Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to decide when to turn off the spigot.
“In terms of when he does what, there’s a reason he’s a four-star commander,” Austin said during a news conference.
The Biden administration has sought to portray Afghan security forces as well equipped to handle the war on their own, but that view appears starkly different from the reality on the ground. Since May 1, when the United States formally began its withdrawal, the Taliban has taken territory in practically every corner of the country.
Six military bases collapsed in northern Baghlan province Thursday. On Monday, in the western province of Farah, a military base was overrun.