US military targets Taliban in first airstrike since signing peace deal



KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military launched its first airstrike Wednesday against the Taliban since signing a peace deal with the group on Saturday.

The strike in southern Helmand province targeted Taliban fighters who were attacking an Afghan forces checkpoint, said Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

The Taliban also staged 43 attacks on Afghan forces in Helmand on Tuesday, Leggett said on Twitter, while Afghan officials reported attacks and deaths in other parts of the country.

Earlier this week, the militant group said it would resume attacks against Afghan military targets, after the expiration of a weeklong partial cease-fire that led to the U.S.-Taliban deal.

“To be clear- we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our [Afghan] partners,” Leggett said on Twitter. “Afghanistan & US have complied w/ our agreements; however, Talibs appear intent on squandering this opp.”

The airstrike Wednesday was the first U.S. attack on Taliban forces in 11 days, Leggett said.

The peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban calls for permanent cease-fire talks with the Afghan government but does not explicitly require the Taliban to stop fighting the Afghan security forces. However, U.S. officials have said the Taliban agreed to fight less, during talks leading to the deal.

“Taliban leadership promised the int’l community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks,” Leggett said. “We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments.

“As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required,” Leggett said.

The attack on the Afghan outpost came after President Donald Trump told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that he spoke with one of the Taliban’s leaders by phone.

“We had a good long conversation today and, you know, they want to cease the violence,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, about 20 Afghan security personnel were killed in northern Kunduz province during overnight attacks, provincial council member Aminullah Aideen said in a phone interview.

“I do not think any peace effort will have positive results if the situation is like this,” Aideen said.

Under the peace deal, all international forces would leave Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban prevent terrorists from operating in the country, stop fighting the U.S. and its partners, and initiate peace talks with the Kabul government.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that he’d already approved the initial withdrawal of about 3,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. military in Afghanistan would not say Wednesday whether the drawdown had begun.

On the eve of the deal’s signing last week, 22 House Republicans led by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 GOP leader in the House, issued a letter questioning whether the agreement was rigorous enough to justify a troop withdrawal.

On Tuesday, Cheney told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that no mechanism existed to verify the Taliban’s commitments.

“I’ve read the documents and my concerns remain,” Cheney said.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

Twitter: @pwwellman

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