The fledgling Afghan army is set for a major clash with the Taliban in the coming days, with U.S. military commanders predicting a “very difficult fight” amid fears that Afghanistan‘s capital, Kabul, may fall to insurgent forces.
Afghan troops and Taliban fighters are in the midst of a three-day cease-fire marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. But when that cease-fire expires this weekend, fighting will resume inside the strategically vital Wardak province outside Kabul.
Afghan officials have warned that if the Taliban holds on to key districts in Wardak, the insurgent group could quickly mount an offensive on the capital, which is now much more vulnerable to attack as American troops withdraw.
President Biden has ordered all U.S. troops to exit the country by Sept. 11.
Military leaders say they’re on track to meet that deadline, but they’re also warning that Afghan security forces are in for a tough test as the highly motivated Taliban captures more territory.
“I think it will be a very difficult fight for the Afghan military. We will do everything we can to help them, but we will no longer be in the country and able to stand behind them there,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya news network this week. “Having said that, it’s a good army. It’s a large army. Some good fighters in the Afghan army. And now it’s time for them to step to the fore and fight the Taliban. We will continue to support them financially, plus a number of other ways as well.”
But Gen. McKenzie also predicted that Taliban attacks will only get worse over the coming weeks.
“I would see no reason to expect their attacks will not continue, and even increase,” he said.
Inside Afghanistan, officials warn that Kabul — which will house U.S. diplomatic personnel even after troops leave — may be in real danger. Wardak mayor Zarifa Ghafari told regional media outlets earlier this week that if Afghan security forces do not quickly retake the Wardak district of Nerkh, Taliban fighters will be in a position to move on Kabul within just a few days.