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Report: Taliban may have fired rockets at US base in Afghanistan, breaching peace deal

U.S. Marine Corps conduct training exercise on Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe/Released)
August 31, 2020

U.S. military officials believe rockets fired at U.S. bases in Afghanistan in recent weeks were launched by the Taliban, in what would be a violation of a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban established in February.

Three military officials who spoke with the New York Times suggested the Taliban were behind a late July rocket attack at Camp Bastion, in the Helmand province and another rocket attack fired at nearby Camp Dwyer last week. If Taliban involvement in the incidents is confirmed, the rocket attack could undermine the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, which calls for an end to hostilities between the two sides.

The first rocket attack, in late July, saw around a dozen rockets land around Camp Bastion, a base used by both Afghan and American forces in the Helmand province. The second rocket attack saw several more rockets land near Camp Dwyer. Neither attack resulted in any U.S. casualties and there has been no public comment from U.S. officials regarding the attacks.

A Taliban commander familiar with the region denied who spoke with the Times denied Taliban involvement in the rocket attacks and said the group would investigate the issue further.

One U.S. military source said the attacks could have been initiated by a faction of the Taliban that has opposed the large group’s peace agreement with the U.S.

The Helmand Province is known to have a heavy Taliban presence, however the Times reported well-armed drug barons and tribal conflicts have also led to violence in the area.

An offshoot of the Islamic State terror group, known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, has also had some presence in parts of Afghanistan in recent years.

An offshoot of the Taliban with links to Iran, known as the Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami or “Party of Islamic Guardianship,” has reportedly split from the main component of the Taliban since the start of the peace agreement in February.

Despite suggestions of disagreements among some Taliban factions, no proof has connected the Taliban to any attacks on U.S. forces since the agreement began. While the Taliban has appeared to cease hostilities against the U.S., they do appear to have continued attacks against Afghan government forces. The Pentagon has raised concerns about the continued attacks by Taliban members against the U.S.-allied Afghan government and has warned that the Taliban retains its ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist group.

The U.S. has also ceased operations against the Taliban but did launch a defensive airstrike aimed at deterring a Taliban attack on Afghan government forces.

Along with ending hostilities, the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement also sets out a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from the country. Since February, the number of troops in Afghanistan has fallen from about 13,000 to about 8,600, and in a recent interview, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. plans to further reduce the U.S. presence in Afghanistan below 5,000 troops by the end of November.