US air raids target Taliban fighters advancing on key Afghan city

The US conducted ‘targeted strikes in Helmand’ to defend Afghan troops, military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett says.

Fighting across Afghanistan has continued despite several rounds of peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators in the Qatari capital of Doha over the past month [Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

The United States military in Afghanistan has said its forces launched air raids against the Taliban in order to support Afghan government forces amid heavy fighting in the southern Helmand province.

Fierce battles broke out in recent days after the Taliban attacked several security outposts on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Some 1,500 families are reported to have fled the continuing fighting.

The US “conducted several targeted strikes in Helmand” across the past two days to defend allied Afghan troops as they came under attack by the group’s fighters, military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett said on Twitter on Monday.

“The Taliban need 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,” Leggett’s tweet said, quoting General Scott Miller, the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan.

The aerial attacks marked a rare military intervention by the US since it signed in February an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending Washington’s longest war.

The document signed in Qatar’s capital, Doha, provides for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the armed group, and a pledge to sit down with the Kabul administration to find a peaceful settlement to decades of war.

After months of delays, these “historic” intra-Afghan talks kicked off in Doha in September but fighting has continued.

Omer Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor in Helmand, said Taliban fighters had started their coordinated attacks in different parts of the province over the past week and that these had intensified over the weekend.

“The Taliban have destroyed several bridges over the main highway, so the highway is closed right now and no one can travel,” said Zwak.

Helmand’s police chief General Khalil-ur-Rahman Jawad told reporters that “tactical measures have been taken to prevent casualties, but security will soon be restored.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the areas taken over by the group had been wrested from their control a few months earlier. “No new changes have occurred,” he said on Twitter.

‘Troops drawdown conditions-based’

Meanwhile, Pentagon’s top general said on Monday the US withdrawal of more troops from Afghanistan will depend on a reduction in violence and other conditions agreed to in February with the Taliban.

Days after US President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election next month, said he wanted US forces “home by Christmas”, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley said in an interview with NPR radio that pulling out the last batch of 4,500 troops depends on the Taliban’s reduction in attacks and advancing peace talks with the Kabul government.

“The whole agreement and all of the drawdown plans are conditions-based,” Milley told NPR.

“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.”


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies