US sends more warplanes to protect Afghan withdrawal

KABUL (Tolo News): The United States has deployed a dozen additional warplanes to protect the withdrawal of American and coalition troops from Afghanistan as Taliban mounts pressure on Afghan forces, Pentagon officials said.

Military Times quoted Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that F-18 attack planes have been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power, including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six Air Force B-52 bombers based in Qatar, that can be called upon as protection for withdrawing troops. Also part of that previously announced package are several hundred Army Rangers, according to Military Times report.

“There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference. He said there have been no attacks against US or coalition forces since they began pulling out of the country on about May 1, and he described the Afghan forces as “cohesive,” even as speculation swirls around Kabul’s ability to hold off the Taliban in the months ahead.

“They’re fighting for their own country now, so it’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said.

“That’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s a significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out.” He said the Pentagon is considering options for continued support of Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal is complete, including possibly training Afghan security forces in another country.

That would be in addition to urging the Congress to authorize continued financial assistance to the Afghan forces, which has been in the range of $4 billion a year for many years, and possibly providing aircraft maintenance support remotely from another country, according to Military Times. “We haven’t figured that out 100% yet,” Milley said.

Milley said Afghanistan’s air force is central to the strategy for holding off the Taliban, but the durability of those planes is in some doubt. This comes as Taliban violence has increased following the start of the withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan. The Defense Ministry reported Saturday that 250 Taliban fighters were killed in clashes against the Afghan forces in nine provinces over the last 24 hours.