U.S. Says It Is Up to Afghans to Defend Country as Taliban Take More Territory

KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) -
An Afghan Army soldier walks at the gate of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Friday, June 25. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

The United States said it was up to Afghan security forces to defend the country after Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial capital on Monday, along with border towns and trade routes.

President Joe Biden has said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, arguing that the Afghan people must decide their own future and that he would not consign another generation of Americans to the 20-year war.

U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has left for Qatar where he will “press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement,” the State Department said on Monday.

In talks over three days, representatives from governments and multilateral organizations will press for “a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognize a government imposed by force,” the State Department said.

The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw.

On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was deeply concerned about the trend but that Afghan security forces had the capability to fight the insurgent group.

“These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend and it’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment,” Kirby said.

Asked what the U.S. military can do if the Afghan security forces are not putting up a fight, Kirby said: “Not much.”