US vows to continue air strikes against Taliban in support of Afghan forces

By Salaam Times and AFP


A US military helicopter flies past a hillside with the word 'Afghanistan' written in Dari in Kabul on May 11. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- The US military will continue to carry out air strikes in support of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday (July 25).

Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault just days after NATO forces began their final withdrawal, which is almost complete.

The Taliban's deadly assault has seen the insurgents capture some remote districts and border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.

"The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, chief of US Central Command (CENTCOM), told reporters in Kabul.


US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie speaks during a news conference at the former Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on July 25. [Sajjad Hussain/AFP]

"The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong," he said.

"Taliban victory is not inevitable," he said, adding that the US military will continue providing logistical support to the Afghan Air Force even after August 31, when all foreign forces are expected to have left the country.

The US Air Force will also retain ability to "strike into Afghanistan" against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, McKenzie said.

"It will generally be from over the horizon," he said.

Last Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated that the United States remains "committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government going forward".

McKenzie said it will be clear in the next "days and weeks" if the Afghan government will be able to defend the country from the Taliban.

"I don't think it's going to be an easy path... [but] I do not accept the narrative that there is going to be a civil war of necessity," he said.

Taliban continue violent offensive

About 22,000 families have been displaced from Kandahar city by Taliban violence in the past month.

"They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas," said Dost Mohammad Daryab, director of the provincial refugee department.

Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled.

"They forced us to leave... I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet," he said.

Fighting continued Sunday on the outskirts of Kandahar city, and McKenzie acknowledged that the US Air Force had carried out air strikes in the province in recent days.

Residents blame the Taliban for ongoing violence.

"If they [Taliban] really want to fight, they should go to a desert and fight, not destroy the city," said Khan Mohammad, who moved to a camp with his family.

"Even if they win, they can't rule a ghost town."

Kandahar, with 650,000 inhabitants, is the second largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul.

The province was the epicentre of the Taliban's regime when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

There are reports that the Taliban are committing atrocities against civilians in areas they have captured, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, including in the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan, which they took earlier this month.

"Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but growing evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detentions and killings in areas under their control are raising fears among the population," said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW.

Afghan authorities meanwhile announced the arrest of four Taliban suspects accused of carrying out last week's rocket attack on Kabul.

At least three rockets landed near the Presidential Palace on Tuesday as President Ashraf Ghani and his top officials performed outdoor prayers to mark the start of Eid ul Adha.

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