US officials have warned that the Taliban could seize Kabul in as little as a month amid the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — as the militant group is reported to be forcing girls as young as 12 into sexual slavery in its territories.
The speed of the Taliban’s blitz, which has seen them gain control of at least two-thirds of the country in a matter of weeks, has stunned US intelligence officials, multiple reports say.
The Biden administration had previously estimated Kabul could be overrun within six to 12 months of troops departing — but now fears it could come much sooner, sources told the Washington Post.
“‘Everything is moving in the wrong direction,” one source said.
Nine of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals have been overrun by the Taliban in recent days, but President Biden said Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw following the decades-long war.
“We spent over a trillion dollars, over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces … they’ve got to fight for themselves,” Biden said, adding that Afghan troops “outnumber the Taliban.”
Behind the scenes, however, US officials have been saying they have little confidence in Afghan security forces’ ability to prevent the country’s complete collapse into war, according to Axios sources.
It comes as Zalmay Khalilzad, a US peace envoy and representative on Afghanistan reconciliation, warned the Taliban that any government that comes to power through force won’t be recognized internationally.
Khalilzad traveled on Tuesday to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, to tell the group that a military takeover of Kabul would guarantee they would be global outcasts.
He and others are hoping to persuade Taliban leaders to return to peace talks with the Afghan government as American and NATO forces finish their pullout from the country, which is scheduled to conclude by the end of the month.
“If the Taliban continue down this path, they will be an international pariah without support from the international community or even the people they say they want to govern,” a Biden administration source told Axios.
The Taliban were undeterred by the threats, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying: “We have never yielded to any foreign pressure tactics before and we do not plan to capitulate anytime soon either.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban seized three more provincial capitals and a local army headquarters Wednesday, officials said.
The latest seizures included the capitals of Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces to the northeast and Farah province to the west.
The headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s 217th Corps at Kunduz airport also fell to the Taliban, according to officials.
It completed the Taliban’s blitz across the country’s northeast.
The US military has conducted some airstrikes but has largely avoided involving itself in the ground campaign.
As the Taliban’s rapid assault continues, reports have emerged that insurgents are going door to door and forcing girls as young as 12 into sexual slavery by marrying fighters.
Some civilians who have fled Taliban advances have said the insurgents imposed repressive restrictions on women and burned down schools.
There have also been reports of revenge killings in areas where the Taliban have gained control.
Insurgents have already claimed responsibility for killing a comedian in southern Kandahar, assassinating the government’s media chief in Kabul and a bombing that targeted acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who was not harmed, but left eight dead.