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US launches new airstrikes on Taliban as US troops begin withdrawal: Reports

Two U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle jets fly in formation June 12, 2009, during a combat mission over Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson/U.S. Air Force)
May 05, 2021

On Wednesday, U.S. forces carried out airstrikes against the Taliban in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, in an effort to support Afghan national security forces fighting in the area.

Voice of America reporter Jeff Seldin tweeted, “BREAKING: US carrying out airstrikes vs #Taliban in #Afghanistan’s Helmand province in support of Afghan national security forces, US official tells @VOANews.”

An Afghan official also told AFP that the U.S. military continues “to deliver precision airstrikes in support” of Afghan forces around the country. Another Helmand official told AFP, “The heavy US air strikes against the Taliban positions stopped them from advancing towards Lashkar Gah” referring to the provincial capital.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to elaborate on the reported airstrikes during a Wednesday press conference.

The reported strikes come days after U.S. troops began their final withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1 per President Joe Biden’s orders, which it must complete by Sept. 11. Biden’s timeline pushes back the date agreed to last February in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement reached under President Donald Trump. Under the February 2020 plan, the U.S. planned to have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.

The Taliban threatened repercussions against U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan after May 1, and as the deadline passed over the weekend, Taliban fighters launched rockets at a U.S. airbase in Afghanistan. U.S. forces responded to the rocket attack with a precision strike, destroying Taliban rockets still directed at the U.S. base.

U.S. military officials have already vowed to respond to attacks on U.S. troops leaving the country, but last week, when asked whether U.S. air support capabilities would be used to support Afghan government forces, Kirby said, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals . . . or specific tactical potentialities.”

By contrast, on Wednesday, Kirby said, “To the degree that we can, as we draw down, we will continue that [airstrike] support. Eventually, that type of support won’t be available to them.”

Kirby added, “This is their country to fight for. It’s their land, their people.”

Asked how prepared Afghan government forces are to assume responsibility for security in the country after U.S. troops leave, Kirby said, “The Afghan Security Forces are more capable than they have been in recent years, and they … have been in the lead for quite some time in operations.”

According to the Washington Times, the Taliban already controls about half of Afghanistan, while the U.S.-backed Afghan government controls the country’s major population centers. The Taliban have reportedly been increasingly pushing into those areas.

Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, told AFP that Taliban forces had made advances, but government forces had “retaken some of these areas.”