CHICAGO, United States

America’s top military commander admitted Wednesday that there is “clearly” a narrative that the Taliban is winning the fight for control of Afghanistan but he said an “automatic” takeover is “not a foregone conclusion.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin addressed reporters on the situation in Afghanistan with an Aug. 31 deadline looming to draw down America’s combat presence.

Milley said about 212 of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan are now under Taliban control but he said none of the 34 provincial capitals have been seized by the group.

Still, he said the Taliban has amassed forces on the outskirts of about half of those provincial capitals in an attempt to isolate population centers of the country, including the capital, Kabul.

Milley said the narrative of an eventual Taliban takeover is propaganda, largely promoted by the Taliban.

But he admitted that it does appear the Taliban has strategic momentum and said there are several possible outcomes, including some kind of negotiated settlement or a complete Taliban takeover.

“The violence is relatively low now because of [the Eid al-Fitr holiday], but after Eid, we’ll find out,” he said of the three-day Muslim holiday. “I don’t think the end game is yet written.”

Milley added that Afghan security forces have been well-trained by US troops in the last 20 years, ever since American troops arrived after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Milley and Austin said the draw-down of troops is going smoothly but made clear the US is still committed to advising the Afghan government and security forces, including providing funding.

Austin said a priority is securing the Kabul airport and a “small” contingent of military personnel, civilians and contractors will remain in Kabul.

“This,” Milley said, “is going to be a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces, and the government of Afghanistan.”

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