ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s national security chief said Tuesday that “teething problems” stemming from the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops were behind recent rapid Taliban territorial gains and his government was working to overcome them.
U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered all American soldiers to leave the war-torn South Asian nation by September 11 to end nearly 20 years of unprecedented U.S. military engagement there. NATO partners have followed suit.
The military drawdown, largely complete and expected to be finished by late August, began on May 1. Since then, nearly a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts have fallen to Taliban insurgents as pro-government forces, deprived of crucial U.S. air support, either retreated or surrendered altogether.
“We had some glitches as a result of the retrograde and the additional pressure on the Afghan air force. … These were some kind of teeth(ing) problems that we are overcoming,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan national security advisor, told reporters in Kabul.
The advisor explained a lack of resources, particularly those related to the Afghan air force, made it hard for authorities to sustain much-needed supplies to remote security bases after foreign troops began pulling out of the country.
“Those areas came under pressure and the way it [the drawdown] happened, the succession and the timing of it made people worried,” Mohib insisted.
On Friday, the United States announced, to the surprise of many, that it had overnight vacated its largest military base in Afghanistan, fueling uncertainty and chaos among war-weary Afghans.
The sprawling Bagram Airfield, located about 60 kilometers north of Kabul, served as the epicenter of the U.S. war on terrorism in the country and played a crucial role in direct operations against the Taliban.
U.S. troops allegedly left Bagram by cutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, who discovered the American military’s departure more than two hours after they left.
The U.S. military, however, insisted the transfer of the base along with other such facilities in the country had been carried out in close coordination with the Afghans.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mohib rejected reports that pro-government forces were defecting to the insurgents. “They may have abandoned their posts because they ran out of ammunition, they ran out of supplies. But by no means has anyone defected to the Taliban.”
Despite widespread insurgent territorial advances, the Afghan advisor appeared confident his government still enjoyed the public’s support, suggesting the battlefield setbacks were temporary.
“It’s a war and there is pressure. Sometimes things work in our way and sometimes they don’t.”
Fleeing to Tajikistan
Mohib said Afghan soldiers who crossed into Tajikistan in recent days after coming under insurgent attacks “are being brought back” and they would be rejoining the national security forces.
Authorities in the neighboring Central Asian state have confirmed that in the last two weeks around 1,600 soldiers from Afghanistan’s embattled Badakhshan province have taken refuge in Tajikistan to escape Taliban advances.
The development prompted Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon on Monday to order the mobilization of 20,000 military reservists to bolster the border with Afghanistan.
Mountainous Badakhshan also borders China and Pakistan. The Taliban claimed Tuesday its fighters took control of Wakhan district next to the Chinese border, reportedly bringing almost all of the province’s 28 districts under insurgent control.
In February 2020, the United States, under then-President Donald Trump, signed a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the U.S.-brokered peace talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government, which started last September, have since stalled.
Mohib insisted Tuesday that Kabul was ready to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict with the Taliban in line with the wishes of Afghans and the international community, but the insurgents were refusing to do.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA when asked for his reaction as to who is responsible for stalling the talks said that his group “is ready and determined to move the peace process froward but the other side is not willing to do so.”
Washington says it will continue to provide economic and financial assistance for Afghan security forces. The Biden administration said Sunday that its embassy in Kabul will remain open. Officials say a contingent of U.S. troops will be left behind to protect the diplomatic mission.
Fears of refugee crisis
The worsening security situation in the wake of rapid Taliban advances has worried Afghanistan’s neighbors about a fresh wave of refugees coming their way from the turmoil.
Officials in Pakistan, which still hosts nearly 3 million Afghan refugees fleeing four decades of hostilities in their country, said they have tightened border security and might not open it to new refugees.
“But, if the situation deteriorates, we will establish settlements along the border with strict control and monitoring, prohibiting the entry of refugees into the mainland,” local media Tuesday quoted Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid as saying.