Security

US air strikes target Taliban in Helmand as troop drawdown halts

Salaam Times and AFP

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A US Navy fighter jet is seen over Afghanistan January 23. [Coalition Forces]

KANDAHAR -- US air strikes targeted Taliban fighters on the outskirts of Lashkargah in Helmand Province over the weekend, officials said Monday (October 12), with violence in Afghanistan surging despite ongoing peace talks.

Heavy fighting erupted on the outskirts of the provincial capital after the Taliban attacked several outposts in the area.

The US military "conducted several targeted strikes in Helmand" to defend Afghan troops as they came under attack, said US military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett.

Under a deal the Taliban signed with US negotiators in February, the insurgents are not supposed to hit urban areas and are meant to keep violence down, while the United States committed to pulling out its troops from the country by next May.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are now engaged in slow-moving peace talks in Doha, Qatar.

US Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, warned the Taliban to "immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country".

"It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks," he said in a statement.

While the Taliban have largely held back from launching major attacks on Afghan cities, they have stepped up attacks against Afghan troops and civilians in recent weeks.

A suicide attack targeting Laghman Governor Rahmatullah Yarmal on October 5 killed at least eight people and wounded 28. The governor was unharmed, a spokesman for the governor said.

On October 3, at least 15 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 42 others wounded in a truck bombing that targeted a government building in Ghani Khel District, Nangarhar Province, officials said.

At least 14 civilians, including seven women and five children, were killed by a roadside bomb in Daikundi Province on September 29, said Ministry of Interior Affairs spokesman Tariq Arian.

Three children were wounded, he added, blaming the Taliban.

Continued US troop drawdown 'conditions-based'

In the wake of the February pact, the United States has upheld its end of the deal, already drastically reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan from 12,000 to about 4,500.

Pulling out the final 4,500 troops depends on the Taliban reducing attacks and advancing peace talks with the Afghan government, stressed US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

"The whole agreement and all of the drawdown plans are conditions-based," he told US National Public Radio in an interview broadcast October 12.

"The key here is that we're trying to end a war responsibly, deliberately, and to do it on terms that guarantee the safety of the US vital national security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan."

Violence is well down from several years ago, but the decline in the past four to five months is "not significant", said Milley.

The Pentagon has envisaged holding the level at about 4,500, expected to be reached by November, into 2021 while it sees how the negotiations in Doha progress.

Future drawdowns "will be determined by the president", said Milley.

"We the military are giving our best military advice on those conditions so that the president can make an informed, deliberate, responsible decision," he said.

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Most of the poor civilians may have been martyred and wounded in these foreign and Afghan forces' airstrikes, because Taliban hide in the houses of the people. These airstrikes do not give result. If these airstrikes were giving result, they would have given result in the past twenty years, because thousands of such airstrikes conducted by the foreign forces in Afghanistan, but they did not yield any positive results. Taliban became strong, but they were not defeated. Therefore, we ask the international community to think of a political deal in Afghanistan. Military attacks do not give any results except killing the poor people of Afghanistan. One of the reasons for the escalation of war in Afghanistan was that civilians were killed as a result of foreign and Afghan air forces' bombardments, and the survivors took up arms and began fighting against the government and foreign forces. The best thing is that pressure should be put on the countries of the region and the supporters of Taliban, so that they reach to an agreement with the Afghan government immediately at the negotiating table in Qatar. There is no other way except a political solution. Again, we ask all the groups that are engaged in the war not to kill the civilians anymore.

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I think Taliban fighters are disobeying the orders of their leaders, and after signing of the Taliban agreement with the United States, the forces of this group attacked several large cities in Afghanistan. This is a clear violation from the US–Taliban agreement. If Taliban are really honest to their commitments and there aren’t many factions in this group, why don't they stick to their commitments? Taliban who are sitting in Qatar should make it clear to the Afghan people as why these groups do not agree on the contents of the agreement and why do they disobey it?

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