The White House insisted Wednesday that Afghan forces “have what they need” to battle the Taliban, as the U.S. assesses that the capital of Afghanistan could fall within the next 90 days.
The Taliban seized three more Afghan provincial capitals and a local army headquarters on Wednesday, attaining control of two-thirds of the nation. The sources said the intelligence regarding Kabul’s security has been dire for some time.
Pentagon officials told Fox News that the intelligence community updated its assessment of Afghanistan after the Taliban conquered nine provincial capitals in recent days.
A CIA assessment months ago said Kabul could fall in six months, however, officials say, at this point that prediction has been cut in half.
But the White House Wednesday maintained that the U.S. is cooperating with Afghan forces, implementing its “train, advise and assist approach.”
“We are continuing and we will continue to provide close air support,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
“Ultimately, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces have equipment, numbers and training to fight back,” Psaki continued. “They have what they need.”
She added: “What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back, and that is really where it stands at this point.”
President Biden has committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, but Psaki maintained that he has made extensive requests for assistance and humanitarian assistance for those in Afghanistan through his budget proposals.
“Our assistance, our partnership, does not end,” Psaki said.
As for the assessment that Kabul could fall within 90 days, Psaki said the White House is “closely watching the deteriorating security” in the region, and working to coordinate air strikes “with and in support of Afghan forces.”
“Afghan leaders need to come together, and the future of the country is on their shoulders,” Psaki said, adding that the Taliban, on the other hand, needs to “make an assessment of what they want their role to be in the international community.”
Psaki, though, said the White House is taking the risk “seriously,” and is watching it “closely.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s spiritual home of Kandahar, in southern part of the country, appears to be one of the next provincial capitals in danger of falling, and the the limited U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan by drones, B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunships in recent days have been concentrated there, in what officials call a last-ditch attempt to keep the city from falling to the Taliban.
Officials also told Fox News that Afghan special forces are concentrated in the south defending Kandahar and are the only ones qualified to call in American airstrikes.
At this point, Afghan special forces are in short supply in northern Afghanistan – one of the reasons why there have been so few U.S. airstrikes there. But U.S. officials said dropping bombs on crowded provincial capitals in the north already seized by the Taliban increases the risk of civilian casualties.
Since the U.S. military left Bagram Air Base, it must now fly from bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – an eight-hour trip that leaves very little time overhead in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon’s authority to carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan ends on Aug. 31, when the U.S. military withdrawal will be complete, officials say. After that date, the U.S. military will have to get the White House to approve future airstrikes or get issued a new set of authorities from the commander in chief.
Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the United States’ “sudden” decision to withdraw its troops for the rapid collapse of security in the country.
Ghani told the Afghan parliament that “the last three months” have been an “unexpected situation.”
He added, though, that the government had a U.S.-backed security plan to bring the situation under control within six months as peace talks between the government and Taliban negotiators continue to stall, Reuters reported.
The Biden administration has said it will continue to support the Afghanistan military financially and logistically, including with contractors helping maintain the government’s air force, from outside Afghanistan, after the withdrawal.
Fox News’ Rich Edson and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.