US conducts first airstrikes against Taliban since Eid cease-fire
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. conducted two airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan this week as the insurgent group attacked Afghan security forces, a U.S. military spokesman said Friday.
The airstrikes were the first by the U.S. against the Taliban since the start of the Eid cease-fire at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late May, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said on Twitter.
A strike in western Farah province Thursday night targeted 25 Taliban fighters “executing a coordinated attack” on an Afghan checkpoint, Leggett said. The other strike in southern Kandahar province Friday afternoon also targeted insurgents attacking a checkpoint, he said.
Leggett said the strikes did not violate a peace deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in February.
The Taliban didn’t immediately comment on the latest strikes but in April accused the U.S. of violating the Feb. 29 deal by conducting “brutal drone attacks and other bombings” against illegitimate targets.
U.S. officials had repeatedly called on the Taliban to curb their attacks in the nearly three months between the signing ceremony and the Eid truce.
Hopes that the three-day holiday armistice would last were short-lived. Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported Thursday that the Taliban had conducted an average of 30 attacks per day since the cease-fire ended May 27.
While the text of the deal doesn’t explicitly prohibit Taliban attacks against Afghan forces, Leggett said last month that the Taliban made a verbal agreement to reduce violence by 80%, which was not kept.
In late February, both sides observed a seven-day period of “reduction in violence,” but within a week of the peace deal being inked, the U.S. reported strikes on Taliban forces attacking Afghan checkpoints.
Meanwhile, an initial drawdown from roughly 13,000 to 8,600 U.S. troops called for in the deal has proceeded and is scheduled to be completed by early next month.
Under the deal’s terms, the insurgents were to begin talks with the Kabul government in March, a condition for the total withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces. But those talks have been stymied by disagreements over a prisoner swap, rising violence and political infighting in Kabul.
While the Taliban have largely held off on attacking foreign troops since February, restraint Pentagon officials have said is likely meant to preserve the deal, it’s unclear how often U.S. aircraft have aided Afghan forces in that time.
Last month, U.S. Air Forces Central Command and the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan began withholding their separate monthly reports detailing U.S. airstrikes in the country, saying the data could hurt the peace process.
The little strike information released since comes from rare official tweets like Leggett’s on Friday, which went on to repeat the U.S.’s commitment to the agreement.
“We reiterate: All sides must reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold,” Leggett said.