The US yesterday launched an airstrike against Taliban fighters to defend Afghan forces, an US military spokesman said, as violence spirals after a string of deadly attacks by the insurgents, throwing the country’s nascent peace process into grave doubt.
News of the US airstrike in southern Helmand Province — the first in 11 days — came hours after US President Donald Trump told reporters he had had a “very good” chat with the Taliban political leader, who on Saturday last week signed a historic deal with Washington to withdraw foreign forces.
However, since the signing in Doha, Qatar, the militants have ramped up violence against Afghan forces, ending a partial week-long truce that provided a rare reprieve to war-weary residents.
US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Sonny Leggett said on Twitter that the airstrike took place against Taliban fighters who were “actively attacking” an Afghan forces checkpoint in Helmand Province.
“This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” he 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.”
He said that insurgents had carried out 43 attacks on checkpoints in Helmand on Tuesday alone.
The insurgents killed at least 20 Afghan soldiers and policemen in a series of overnight attacks, Afghan government officials said yesterday, casting a pall over peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, due to begin on Tuesday next week.
“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” Helmand Provincial Council member Safiullah Amiri said.
An Afghan Ministry of Defense official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the army toll, while the provincial police spokesman Hejratullah Akbari confirmed the police fatalities.
The insurgents on Tuesday night attacked police in Uruzgan Province, with the governor’s spokesman Zergai Ebadi saying: “Unfortunately, six police were killed and seven wounded.”
The news of the attacks came after Trump on Tuesday told reporters in Washington that he had a “very good” relationship with Taliban political leader Mullah Baradar, with the pair speaking on the telephone for 35 minutes, according to the insurgents.
“The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah. We had a good long conversation today and you know, they want to cease the violence, they’d like to cease violence also,” he said.
Leggett said on Twitter that the “#Afghans & US have complied w/ our agreements; however, Talibs appear intent on squandering this (opportunity) and ignoring the will of the people for #peace.”
Trump has touted the Doha deal as a way to end the bloody, 18-year US military presence in Afghanistan — right in time for his November re-election bid.
Under the terms of the deal, US and other foreign forces are to quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with the national government in Kabul.
The agreement also includes a commitment to exchange 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government in return for 1,000 captives — something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks, but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.
Trump has said the Taliban and Washington both “have a very common interest” in ending the war.
Since Saturday’s deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming “victory” over the US and on Monday they announced they would resume attacks on Afghan national forces.
Ghani’s government last week sent a delegation to Qatar to open “initial contacts” with the insurgents, but Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Tuesday said the militants would not meet Kabul’s representatives except to discuss the release of their captives.
Apparent differences between the Doha agreement and a separate joint US-Afghan declaration made in Afghanistan underline the obstacles facing negotiators.
The US-Taliban deal committed to the release of the prisoners, while the Kabul document only required both sides to determine “the feasibility of releasing” captives.
India has moved additional troops along its northern border as it prepares for an extended conflict with China, after several rounds of talks failed to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. China has already placed about 5,000 soldiers and armored vehicles within its side of the disputed border in the Ladakh region, an Indian government official said, asking not to be identified, citing rules. India is adding a similar number of troops as well as artillery guns along the border to fend off the continuing incursions by the Chinese army, the official said. The standoff began on May 5, when troops clashed
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming