US strikes more than 20 Taliban targets after cease-fire ends

A screengrab of video taken of U.S. and Afghanistan airstrikes on Nov. 19, 2017, targeting alleged narcotics laboratories in Helmand province, a key source of revenue for the Taliban.


KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted more than 20 airstrikes against the Taliban on Saturday after an unprecedented unilateral cease-fire ended.

The strikes took place in Ghazni, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, according to Army Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. The Afghan Air Force also conducted at least two independent strikes since the midnight end of the cease-fire, he said.

Afghan and U.S. forces had no choice but to resume fighting after the Taliban chose not to extend a short cease-fire it declared earlier this month, said Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, acting spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

“We have more than nine places throughout the country where we’ve started the continuation of our military operations,” Radmanish said Saturday morning, referring solely to Afghan operations.

Both sides of the conflict laid down their arms over the three-day Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the first such move since the nearly 17-year war began.

President Ashraf Ghani then extended the government’s cease-fire — honored by the U.S. — by an additional 10 days, hoping the Taliban would announce a similar measure within that time.

Throughout the cease-fire, the U.S. continued counterterrorism operations, predominantly against the local branch of the Islamic State group, known as ISIS-K.

The U.S. also defended against insurgent attacks.

“U.S. forces conducted five self-defense strikes during Afghanistan’s unilateral cease-fire period, however, we cannot confirm the strikes were against Taliban targets,” O’Donnell said.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters from Kabul earlier this week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, assistant deputy air commander for USFOR-A said the Afghans carried out 38 self-defense strikes of their own against Taliban targets during the cease-fire.

He also suggested that the extra U.S. resources available to target ISIS-K because of the lull in anti-Taliban operations weren’t as heavily used as some had expected, saying, “there had been a light increase” in operations against the militants.

Critics of the cease-fire worried that it would give the Taliban — who continued to fight government forces during the 10-day extension — an upper hand and allow them to regroup and plan attacks. However, U.S. and Afghan military officials have played down fears, saying that they continued to gather intelligence throughout the period, which they will now use as fighting resumes.

Although disappointed the cease-fire was not extended further by both sides, Ghani said Saturday that it was a successful experiment.

“If we were to wait for a peace deal and a cease-fire based on it, we would wait indefinitely to stop the bloodshed,” he said after ordering security forces to resume operations. “The cease-fire broke the deadlock and caused mobility.”

Twitter: @pwwellman