US calls in airstrikes to defend Afghan allies amid withdrawal
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — U.S. military aircraft have been hitting ground targets in Afghanistan in an effort to protect allies, according to U.S. Central Command, as the Taliban makes rapid advances in the void left by withdrawing U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops.
"U.S. forces have conducted several airstrikes in defense of our Afghan partners in recent days," U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicole Ferrara, a U.S. Central Command spokesperson, said by email.
She declined to provide specifics on the aircraft involved. President Joe Biden ordered B-52 bombers and AC-130 Spectre gunships to strike enemy fighters advancing toward Kandahar and other cities, the Daily Mail reported earlier on Saturday. A National Security Council spokesman referred questions to the Defense Department.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Saturday urged U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately "using available commercial flight options," according to a statement on its website that cited "the security conditions and reduced staffing."
The last U.S. ground forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The Taliban has also been busy gaining territory and taking over customs posts at Afghan border crossings, seizing much of the government's revenue.
The group has steadily expanded its Afghan territory in recent months — controlling half of the country's 419 districts — and the militants are putting pressure on the provincial capitals, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on July 22. Afghan security forces are consolidating around the cities as Taliban fighters attempt to isolate those population centers, he said.
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