Kabul, July 24: US military aircraft struck a number of Taliban positions this week in support of faltering Afghan government forces, in one of the first significant American reactions to the anti-occupation forces’ blistering advance across Afghanistan as US troops withdraw.
At least one of the strikes was against Taliban positions in the key southern city of Kandahar, slowing an advance that threatened to take over the city.
The Taliban called the strikes “disobedience” to last year’s withdrawal agreement with the Americans, and they warned of unspecified “consequences” — an indication that the airstrikes had an impact on Taliban.
The scale and pace of the Taliban advance has provoked alarm among top US military and civilian officials in recent days. The Taliban now emerged stronger in most of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and even Kabul, the national capital. The group has overrun more than half of the country’s 400-odd districts, in many cases seizing them without a fight, since it began its offensive in earnest in May.
This week’s airstrikes, which took place Wednesday and Thursday, reflect both the level of American worry and the Afghan military’s continued need for US air support, as Washington attempts to end nearly 20 years of war in the country.
Afghan forces have been reeling in the face of the Taliban offensive, as the United States nears completion of a pull-out of its remaining forces. The United States and other major powers are pushing for a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but the Taliban believe they are winning the war, leaving little incentive to negotiate.
Several Pentagon officials confirmed that additional bombing raids around Kandahar and other contested areas are likely in the coming days. “We’ve been doing it where and when feasible, and we’ll keep doing it where and when feasible,” one official said, speaking anonymously to describe operational planning.
Pentagon officials confirmed the recent US strikes but were tight-lipped about specifics. They have been similarly ambiguous for weeks about the scale and scope of continued US military involvement in Afghanistan’s war, though they indicated earlier this month that it could continue at least until the withdrawal was completed at the end of August.
The Taliban said the airstrikes were carried out in Kandahar and in the neighboring province of Helmand.