Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported on Monday that an Afghan delegation to Washington has been told the United States will provide 37 Black Hawk helicopters and two A-29 Super Tucano fixed-wing attack planes to Kabul for deployment against advancing Taliban forces.
“A new chapter has been opened in U.S. and Afghanistan relations,” said Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, at a press conference on Monday.
Abdullah said President Joe Biden promised a “sustained” partnership and continuing support for Afghan security forces, even as the U.S. winds down its 20-year military presence in Afghanistan. Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani met with Biden and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during their visit to Washington.
“Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want, but it won’t be for lack of us being [a] help,” Biden said from the Oval Office after meeting with Ghani and Abdullah on Friday.
“The senseless violence has to stop, but it’s going to be very difficult. But we’re going to stick with you and we’re going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need,” Biden told his guests.
Ghani responded by saying Afghanistan is having an “1861 moment” and its people are “rallying to the defense of the republic,” a comparison to the American Civil War.
“It’s a choice of values, the values of an exclusionary system or an inclusionary system. We are determined to have unity, coherence, national sense of sacrifice and will not spare anything,” Ghani said.
The Taliban does not appear to believe violence is either senseless or futile. Tolo News reported on Sunday that five more northeastern districts fell to the Taliban in just 24 hours, putting “income-generating territory” in the Takhar and Kunduz provinces in danger of conquest.
Provincial officials pleaded with the central government in Kabul to “pay serious attention” to the Taliban’s latest advances and make an effort to recapture towns along the border with Tajikistan.
Ministers in Kabul claimed 11 districts were recaptured from the Taliban over the past three days, while former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum – a former tribal warlord driven from office by charges of ordering torture and rape, now returned to Ghani’s government as Marshal of the National Army – warned the Taliban he is ready to lead troops into battle against them.
“I will begin my work. I will suppress them. I am calling on the security forces to come to me when I arrive,” Dostum said as he prepared to depart for the northern Jowzjan province.
Hundreds more Afghan civilians announced on Sunday they are joining local militias in Jowzjan and other imperiled provinces, promising to support government security troops. Militias have become a major element of Kabul’s strategy for halting the Taliban’s advance, prompting some misgivings from critics who fear these private guerrilla groups could be difficult to control and prone to infighting due to religious and ethnic differences.
Tolo News quoted several militia recruits who warned the Taliban they are ready to mount stiff resistance if their towns are attacked:
“We pledge to the people that we will defend the country until the last drop of our blood,” Farid Ahmad, a public uprising force member. In Ghor and Kunduz as well, people say they have been left with no option but to take up arms to fight the Taliban.
“We will suppress the Taliban wherever they are. We will always support our security forces,” said Abdul Rahman, a Ghor resident who has taken up arms.
“We prevented the enemy from advancing. And we are supporting the government,” said Khalid, a Kunduz resident who has taken up arms.
Officials in Kabul expressed support for the militia movement and promised to support it, while the Taliban threatened dire consequences for resistance fighters and their families.
Defense One argued that despite Biden’s comments about supporting the Afghan government, Ghani essentially came away “empty-handed” from his visit to the White House, deprived of even the minimal honor of a joint press conference with the U.S. president.
U.S. troop withdrawal is, if anything, ahead of schedule and could be largely completed in July, save for a few hundred American soldiers left behind to guard the U.S. embassy and help Turkish forces secure the Kabul airport. NATO withdrawal is also proceeding swiftly.
White House and Pentagon officials seem to be dangling vague threats that troop withdrawal could be slowed or reversed if the Taliban threatens to overthrow the Afghan government, sprinkling their press conference with implications that “changing conditions” could prompt revisions to the American pullout timetable.
The Taliban has not been visibly fazed by these threats, as their forces are now pushing from the north into the relatively stable central provinces. Kabul itself has suffered several blackouts after Taliban attacks on power pylons in central Parwan province.