Flashpoints

US resumes airstrikes against Taliban to halt attack on Afghan forces

Well that didn’t take long.

The U.S. carried out an airstrike against Taliban forces attacking an Afghan checkpoint today, a U.S. military spokesman announced.

“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” said USFOR-A spokesman, Col. Sonny Leggett, via Twitter.

It was the first strike against the Taliban in 11 days, he said. It came just five days after the U.S. and Taliban signed an historic agreement that would end America’s longest war if the Taliban lived up to its commitments.

U.S. officials argue there’s a commitment by the Taliban to reduce violence. However, the four-page agreement signed Feb. 29 does not discuss a cessation of hostilities or reduction in violence. Technically, the week-long reduction-in-violence partial truce ended on Feb. 29.

The Taliban announced it would resume attacks on Afghans after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he would not agree to the exchange of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners for up to 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners as a precondition of the deal.

On March 3 alone, the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on ANDSF checkpoints in Helmand, Leggett said.

“The Taliban claim to be fighting to free Afg. from int’l forces, the Feb 29 agreement provides a conditions-based path to withdrawal,” said Leggett.

“To be clear- we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our #ANDSF partners. #Afghans & US have complied w/ our agreements; however, Talibs appear intent on squandering this opp. and ignoring the will of the people for #peace. #Showyourcommitment,” Leggett tweeted.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper explained to reporters Monday at the Pentagon that the deal with Taliban is conditions-based and that the U.S. could delay the withdrawal of American forces if the peace process stalls.

The U.S. has agreed to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan from about 13,000 troops to 8,600 within 135 days of the signing, and complete a total withdrawal of U.S. forces in 14 months.

In an interview with Afghan-based Tolo News, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said American warplanes would continue to defend Afghan troops on the ground despite the signed agreement with the Taliban.

“We have shown restraint," Miller told Tolo News. “The objective here is to lower violence on all sides. The lowering of violence is our expectation."

“The agreement is fragile if the Taliban are not going to lower violence, that causes risk to this agreement,” Miller told Tolo.

Miller explained to Tolo that the U.S. has gone directly to the Taliban and warned the militants to lower violence or risk undermining the agreement.

The Taliban significantly reduced violence across Afghanistan during a seven-day reduction-in-violence trial period from Feb. 22 to Feb. 29, which ultimately led to the U.S. signing an agreement with the militants in Doha, Qatar.

The Taliban demonstrated its ability to control their fighters on the battlefield, but the resumption of attacks on Afghan forces threatens the fragile truce.

President Donald Trump phoned the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and discussed violence across the country.

“We had a good conversation. We’ve agreed there’s no violence. We don’t want violence. We’ll see what happens. They’re dealing with Afghanistan, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday before boarding Marine One.

The Taliban claim Trump said the U.S. would help remove obstacles for upcoming intra-Afghan talks slated to kick of on March 10.

Those peace talks are in jeopardy of being derailed over the recent spate of violence across the country and disagreements between the Taliban and Afghan government over a prisoner exchange.

The U.S. airstrike is exactly the kind of commitment Afghan officials were expecting in the event of Taliban attacks.

“I believe the U.S. government will hold itself to that,” Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., told Military Times in an interview Monday. “This is the promise that they have been making, and that’s part of the agreement that they have had with the Taliban.”

For the U.S., Afghanistan has been a heavy investment. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have died, and more than 20,000 wounded in support of efforts there, which have cost U.S. taxpayers about $1 trillion.

This is a developing story. Stay with MilitaryTimes.com for updates.

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