US signals no change in airstrikes as Afghan Taliban advance

Washington DC: The United States showed no sign Monday of stepping up airstrikes in Afghanistan despite accelerating Taliban gains there.

A Pentagon spokesman emphasized that Americans now see the fight as one for Afghan political and military leaders to win or lose.

When we look back, it's going to come down to leadership and what leadership was demonstrated, or not," by Afghans, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a news conference. It's their country to defend now. It's their struggle.

The comments distancing the U.S. further from the conflict came as Taliban militants captured two more provincial capitals Monday in a push across much of Afghanistan, after taking large swaths of land in the mostly rural countryside.

US officials said Monday that military commanders have bluntly laid out their assessments that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating.

Afghan special operations forces have been able to hold off the Taliban in key centers, including Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, they said. But in locations where the commandos have not been sent in, regular Army forces have been overrun.

Army Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his top Middle East commander, Gen. Frank McKenzie, on Monday, officials said. But defense and military leaders have not provided any new recommendations to beef up US operations in defence of the Afghans.

The US has been launching up to a handful of airstrikes a day on the Taliban, and officials said there has been no order yet to increase that tempo.

Senior officials from the White House National Security Council, State Department and Defence Department were in close contact with US embassy officials in Kabul on Sunday assessing the broader impact of the fall of Kunduz, the largest and most significant Taliban takeover, according to a senior administration official.

The administration official, however, indicated that the Biden administration remains determined to stick to its plan to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan by the end of the month despite the Taliban's rapid strategic gains.

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