The US 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 Pentagon news conference. "It’s their country to defend now. It’s their struggle.” The comments distancing the US 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, the AP reports.
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, they said. But in locations where the commandos have not been sent in, regular Army forces have been overrun. By Monday, with the US, three weeks and one day from its deadline to end the 19-year combat mission in Afghanistan, Taliban militias were back in control of six of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, including the key northern hub Kunduz. Kirby refused to say how many airstrikes US aircraft have done in recent days. And he declined to say whether the Biden administration might continue the airstrikes past Biden's Aug. 31 withdrawal date.
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