General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview with Associated Press and CNN reporters on Sunday described the Afghan military and police as "reasonably well equipped, reasonably well trained, reasonably well led."
He cited Afghan troops' years of experience against a resilient insurgency, but he declined to say they are fully ready to stand up to the Taliban without direct international backing during a potential Taliban offensive, AP noted.
He said that the Afghan forces face an uncertain future and, in a worst-case scenario, some "bad possible outcomes" against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal of foreign troops form Afghanistan accelerates in the coming weeks.
Asked whether he believes the Afghan forces can hold up under increased strain, Milley was noncommittal.
"Your question: The Afghan army, do they stay together and remain a cohesive fighting force or do they fall apart? I think there's a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities," he said. "On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together."
"Which one of these options obtains and becomes reality at the end of the day? We frankly don't know yet. We have to wait and see how things develop over the summer."
He said there is "at least still the possibility" of a negotiated political settlement between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. This, he said, would avoid the "massive civil war" that some fear could happen.
Milley mentioned that the Afghan forces have operated in recent years with less reliance on US and coalition advisers.
"But, for the most part, there's no advisers out there anyway," he said.
In the meantime, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview with CBS on Afghanistan said: “We have to be prepared for every scenario, and there-- there are a range of them. And-- we-- we-- we're looking at this-- in a very clear-eyed way.”
“We've been engaged in Afghanistan for 20 years, and we sometimes forget why we went there in the first place, and that was to deal with the people who attacked us on 9/11. And we did. Just because our troops are coming home doesn't mean we're leaving,”Blinken said. “We're not. Our embassy's staying, the support that we're giving to Afghanistan when it comes to-- economic support, development, humanitarian, that-- that remains. And not only from us, from partners and allies,” he said.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, when asked if the US withdrawal would cause an increase in violence, said: “There is always a possibility of that. Should [the] Taliban choose to increase violence with the hope that they can take advantage of that situation. That’s a possibility and I hope that they are not [don’t] making that mistake.”
“Natural circumstances when these sorts of situations take place and when one side thinks that because of the vacuum that the withdrawal leaves, it may be able to take advantage of that situation, that emboldens the position of the sides,” Abdullah said.
“The one which is more on the military term rather than peaceful means. And that’s the concern, that the Taliban position might get further emboldened,” he said. “Well, as far as their excuses, or the reasons that they were giving, that it is because of the presence of the international forces, it’s ‘jihad’ against foreigners and so on and so forth, so, in three months time, perhaps in less than three months time, there will be no foreign troops on our [Afghanistan’s] soil.”
He also said that “we cannot rule out that scenario, that the situation will get very difficult for the people and the war will continue. At this stage the Taliban have not said that they are not talking. Let’s not lose hope because it will be a worst-case scenario. So, at this stage, the whole focus should be on how to make it work [happen].”
On Saturday, the US and its NATO allies officially began withdrawing their remaining forces and equipment from Afghanistan.