The United States has deployed a dozen additional warplanes to bolster protection of American and coalition troops making a final withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents step up pressure on Afghan government forces, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said F-18 attack planes have been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power — including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six Air Force B-52 bombers based in Qatar — that can be called upon as protection for withdrawing troops. Also part of that previously announced package are several hundred Army Rangers.
U.S. officials said before the withdrawal began that they expected the Taliban to attempt to interfere, even as the insurgents continue pressuring government forces, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan.
“There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference. He said there have been no attacks against U.S. or coalition forces since they began pulling out of the country on about May 1, and he described the Afghan forces as “cohesive,” even as speculation swirls around Kabul’s ability to hold off the Taliban in the months ahead.
Both Milley and Austin, a retired Army general, are veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
“They’re fighting for their own country now, so it’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said. “That’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s a significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out.”
Milley said the Pentagon is considering options for continued support of Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal is complete, including possibly training Afghan security forces in another country. That would be in addition to urging the Congress to authorize continued financial assistance to the Afghan forces, which has been in the range of $4 billion a year for many years, and possibly providing aircraft maintenance support remotely from another country.
“We haven’t figured that out 100% yet,” Milley said.
Milley said Afghanistan’s air force is central to the strategy for holding off the Taliban, but the durability of those planes is in some doubt. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that without continued foreign contractor support, none of the Afghan air force’s airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months.
Austin acknowledged that holding off the Taliban without American support on the ground “will be a challenge” for the Afghans.
“We’re hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play a major role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said. “What we’re seeing unfold is what we expected to unfold — increased pressure” on the Afghan forces. He asserted that government forces launched a counterattack this week against the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and that they were “performing fairly well.”
President Joe Biden announced last month that all American troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. NATO allies have said they will do the same, and troops have already begun leaving. Austin said the “drawdown is going according to plan.”
The Pentagon has said there were about 2,500 U.S. troops there in recent months, and Milley said in an interview last weekend that the total rises to 3,300 if special operations forces are counted. Military commanders have said that additional forces will flow in temporarily to help with security and logistics for the drawdown.
Pentagon officials have said they will do all they can to monitor terror threats and help the Afghans from other locations in the region, described as “over the horizon.” But officials have not detailed where those would be.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has warned that Afghanistan’s military “will certainly collapse” without some continued American support once all U.S. troops are withdrawn. He has expressed concerns that Afghan forces may be unable to prevent the Taliban from taking more ground, and said the Afghans will need help and funding to maintain and fly their aircraft.
Milley said last week that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and, in a worst-case scenario, some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal of American and coalition troops accelerates in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, Milley took a hopeful tone in speaking about the government forces avoiding a collapse.
“There is 300-plus thousand (in the) Afghan army, Afghan police,” he said. “It’s their country. They’ve been leading the fight for several years now. We’ve been supporting them, for sure. But they’ve been leading the fight. And I’m a personal witness … that the Afghan forces can fight.”
Kamala Harris Caught In A Major Lie When Asked This Question
Vice President Kamala Harris falsely claimed that “we’ve been to the border” when pressed on why she has not yet visited the southern border after being tasked by President Biden to handle the “root causes” of migration.
During an interview with NBC News Tuesday, Harris, who has been criticized by Republicans for not making the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, was asked whether she had any plans to do so.
Harris has come under heavy criticism from Republicans for the way she has handled the role since being appointed to it 75 days ago. While the White House has emphasized she is not tasked with the border per se, Republicans have criticized her repeatedly for not having visited the border at all – with former Trump officials saying she needs to go to the border in order to be able to conduct the talks effectively.
Harris’ comments came as she visited Guatemala, for her first visit abroad since being appointed by President Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to the region to help solve the massive spike in migration to the border in recent months.
Harris, during a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei told potential migrants that they should not travel to the U.S. Mexico border – claiming that they would be turned back if they did.
Harris, on Monday, seemed to be attempting to make clear that message, and claimed that migrants would be turned back as she sought to present a tougher stance on illegal immigration.
The White House, on Tuesday, seemingly clarified Harris’ comments, saying that they encourage those who would like to come to the U.S. to “do so legally.”
The White House says they have been clear on that policy – noting that during the transition, Amb. Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated that now was not the time to come to the U.S., and noting that President Biden in March said something to the same effect, while Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has urged migrants to pursue legal immigration channels.
The Biden administration has rolled back a number of Trump-era policies which kept migrants out of the U.S., even as increasing numbers of migrants flooded to the border. Of those, the most significant was the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – which kept migrants in Mexico as they awaited their hearings. The Biden administration has ended the program and has been processing migrants enrolled into the program into the U.S.
It has also ended a number of asylum cooperative agreements with countries like Guatemala which made migrants claim asylum in other countries first, and has been accused of encouraging migration by narrowing interior enforcement in the U.S., and pushing for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The administration has kept in place the Trump-era Title 42 public health order which allows migrants to be expelled quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and officials said that out of the 178,000 migrants encountered at the border in April, 111,714 were expelled – mainly single adults.
However, the administration has not applied Title 42 to unaccompanied children, of which there were more than 13,000 that arrived at the border in April, and it is not returning migrant families with children under seven to Mexico due to the country’s refusal to take them — meaning that significant numbers of families are not being turned back, and are being released into the U.S. interior.
China Praises Biden Reversing Trump App Ban As Positive Step
China’s Ministry of Commerce said Thursday that a U.S. move to revoke the Trump administration’s executive orders intended to ban apps like TikTok and WeChat was a “positive step,” amid strained relations between the two countries.
“We hope that the US will treat Chinese companies fairly and avoid politicizing economic and trade issues,” ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said at a regular news briefing Thursday.
Gao said the U.S. move to revoke previous government actions against apps such as TikTok and WeChat was a “positive step in the right direction.”
The White House on Wednesday revoked some blanket-style orders made under former President Donald Trump against Chinese apps including the messenging app WeChat, short video app TikTok and the Alipay payments app. A new executive order from President Joe Biden said the U.S. would conduct an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are created, supplied or controlled by China.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated at a daily news briefing that China will continue to defend its interests. It urged the U.S. “to stop generalizing the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress Chinese technology enterprises.”
Courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts last year to ban TikTok and WeChat, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is still conducting a national-security review of TikTok.
The Biden administration’s stance reflects concern that users’ personal data could be exposed by popular apps tied to China if the ruling Communist Party pressures companies to share data.
The administration said in February that it was replacing Trump’s approach with a more targeted strategy. It has not actually weighed in yet on whether TikTok and other apps pose a danger to Americans.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the aim of the review is to set clear criteria to evaluate specific data security and privacy risks for each app.
That could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis.
“We want to take a tailored, tough approach here,” he said.
CFIUS had set deadlines for TikTok to divest its U.S. operations, but such a sale has not happened.
Last week, the Biden administration expanded a list of Chinese companies on a blacklist from the Trump era purported to have links to Chinese military and surveillance. American companies and individuals cannot invest in these companies, which include telecommunications gear supplier Huawei and Chinese oil company China National Offshore Oil Corp.
Chinese officials and companies have denied that their products and services pose a security threat.
Relations between Beijing and Washington remain testy, with each side having imposed sanctions including tariffs on each others’ exports.
China’s legislature passed legislation Thursday laying down the legal basis for retaliation against foreign sanctions over issues such as Hong Kong and the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where China is accused of curtailing freedoms and committing human rights abuses. No specific measures were included in the anti-sanctions law.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the law aimed to “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, dignity and core interests and oppose Western hegemonism and power politics.” and to “provide legal support and guarantees for the country to counter discriminatory measures by a foreign country in accordance with the law.”
Wang lashed out over calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for greater attention to China’s growing military power, accusing Washington of “playing the China card” as a pretext for increasing U.S. military spending and seeking to “contain China.”
He also protested Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s reference to Taiwan as a country during a parliamentary debate Wednesday. China considers the self-governing island democracy as its own territory and is quick to chastise anyone or any company that refers to it as a country.
Suga made a passing reference to Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia while answering a question about pandemic measures, and then referred to them as “three countries.”
Wang said the comment violated Japan’s “solemn promise to not regard Taiwan as a country.”
“We strongly deplore Japan’s erroneous remarks and have lodged solemn complaints with Japan, demanding that Japan immediately make clear clarifications to eliminate the adverse effects caused by relevant remarks, and to ensure that such situations will not happen again,” Wang said.
Republican Wins Mayoralty Race In Hispanic-majority Border Town
McAllen is a border town in Texas that has been carrying much of the brunt of the massive immigration in the south, illegal or otherwise. Sitting in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen has a population of almost 142,000 and about 85% of its constituents are of Hispanic descent.
Recently, the Republicans clinched a breakthrough victory in McAllen when Javier Villalobos bagged the mayoralty crown against Veronica Whitacre. The GOP candidate is a replacement for long-time mayor Jim Darling, who decided last year that he will not seek reelection.
“Amazing news! McAllen, Texas is a major border town of 140,000 people. 85% Hispanic – and just elected a Republican mayor. The macro realignment accelerates in South Texas, and elsewhere, as Hispanics rally to America First,” Trump 2020 campaign adviser Steve Cortes said on twitter.
“Javier Villalobos is a proven leader who cares deeply about the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Congratulations on becoming the next Mayor of McAllen!” Texas Gov. and fellow-Republican Greg Abbott posted on social media.
RNC spokesman Nathan Brand also expressed his thoughts on Villalobos’ victory, saying that it was a “BIG win for Republicans tonight in a border community. Biden’s border crisis has real world ramifications for communities across the country, especially in cities like McAllen.”
Villalobos is McAllen city district 1 commissioner and a practicing lawyer for the past 25 years. Even though he grew up in Crystal City, Villalobos have always felt comfortable with the border town for their similarities.
“The majority [was] Hispanic people, and it was an agricultural community, kind of like it used to be back in the old days here with that type of labor. When I came over here I felt right at home. You know, the people were wonderful,” Villalobos stated in an interview before the election.
Being situated in the southernmost tip of Texas makes McAllen the shortest route for Central Americans. The uncontrollable migration under the Biden administration has put a lot of pressure on its people who are doing their best to adjust to the situation and even provide humanitarian aid to those who are entering American soil. Having a leader who will understand their problems and will not opt to defund the police where security is so much needed, is indeed a huge step to the direction of progress, for the people of McAllen.
“Let me start by thanking the voters, my team, my family [and] everyone who helped run this campaign. Thank you McAllen for trusting [and] believing in me. I promise to not let you down,” Villalobos thanked everyone through his facebook page.
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