Taliban Now Controls Half of Afghanistan's District Centers, General Mark Milley Says

The Taliban now controls about half of the district centers in Afghanistan, and the group is continuing to pressure provincial capitals as it works to seize more territory, U.S. General Mark Milley said.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that out of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan, about half are under Taliban control. The Taliban has yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, but it is putting pressure on about half of them.

"A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be—strategic momentum appears to be—sort of with the Taliban," Milley said.

As U.S. troops continue to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban has continued to fight for control of the country. Afghan security forces have been working to protect key population centers, including Kabul, Milley said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghani-Taliban peace talks
The Taliban currently controls about half of the district centers in Afghanistan as U.S. troops continue withdrawing from the country. Abdullah Abdullah, center, head of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, walks where peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are taking place, in Doha, Qatar on July 18. Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

"This is going to be a test now of the will and leadership of the Afghan people—the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan," Milley told a Pentagon press conference.

The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is 95 percent finished and will be completed by August 31. And while the Biden administration has vowed to continue financial assistance and logistical support for Afghan forces after August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the focus of U.S. military efforts there will be countering terrorist threats, not the Taliban.

Speaking alongside Milley, Austin said the U.S. will "keep an eye on" Al-Qaeda, the extremist network whose use of Afghanistan as a haven for planning the 9/11 attacks on the United States was the reason U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

"Our major focus going forward is to make sure that violence, terrorism, cannot be exported from Afghanistan to our homeland, and so we'll maintain the capability to be able to not only observe that but also address that if it does emerge," Austin said, adding that the Taliban pledged in 2020 to not provide a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda in the future.

"We expect for them to meet that commitment. If they want legitimacy going forward, I think that's something they'll have to consider. That's one way to earn it, so we'll see what happens." He reiterated his view that there is a "medium risk" of Al-Qaeda regaining within about two years of the U.S. departure the capability to launch attacks against the West.

"But, again, there are a number of things that could happen to speed that up a bit or slow it down," he added.

Milley said that while the Taliban is attempting to create the impression that its victory over the U.S.-backed Kabul government is inevitable, he believes the Afghan military and police have the training and equipment to prevail. He said he would not rule out a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban, nor would he exclude "a complete Taliban takeover."

"I don't think the endgame is yet written," he said.

Gen. Mark Milley speaks on Taliban
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley speaks at a press briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, July 21, in Washington. Milley said that out of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan, the Taliban controls about half. Kevin Wolf/AP Photo