Taliban in Strongest Position Since 2001 as Troops Leave Afghanistan, CIA Director Says

CIA Director William Burns said Friday that Taliban forces are likely "in the strongest military position that they've been in since 2001," as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

In an interview with National Public Radio that aired on Friday, Burns acknowledged that it's possible that the Afghan government could fall as the Taliban advances. But he also said that Afghan officials have the capabilities to fight the Taliban forces.

"The big question it seems to me and to all of my colleagues at CIA and across the intelligence community is whether or not those capabilities can be exercised with the kind of political willpower and unity of leadership that's absolutely essential to resist the Taliban," Burns told NPR.

"The trend lines are certainly troubling, I don't think that that should lead us to foregone conclusions, or a sense of imminence or inevitability," he added.

President Joe Biden announced in April that he would remove U.S. forces from Afghanistan, arguing that it's"time to end America's longest war." U.S. troops have been fighting in the country for nearly two decades, following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

U.S. military officials have already started removing troops from Afghanistan, and the Biden administration plans to complete its withdrawal by September. But as U.S. military presence recedes, it appears that the Taliban is quickly gaining strength.

Earlier this month, more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel reportedly retreated to Tajikistan after the Taliban gained ground in Northern Afghanistan.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that nearly half of Afghanistan's roughly 420 district centers are now under Taliban control. Taliban forces have yet to seize any of the country's 34 provincial capitals, though the general noted they are "putting pressure on the outskirts" of about half of them.

Milley said "a complete Taliban takeover" was a possibility, though he noted that he doesn't think "the end game is yet written."

"The future of Afghanistan is squarely in the hands of the Afghan people, and there are a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan. And I want to emphasize repeatedly, and I've said this before, a negative outcome, a Taliban automatic military takeover, is not a foregone conclusion," Milley said.

U.S. military officials plan to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan by September. gorodenkoff

While the U.S. government is removing troops from Afghanistan, diplomats and American intelligence officials will remain in the country. The U.S. also plans to keep around 650 troops in the country to provide security for diplomats, and several hundred more to help secure the country's airport in Kabul.