US continues air strikes in Afghanistan ahead of final withdrawal

The strikes demonstrate the United States’ intention to continue supporting Afghan forces with fighter jets based out of the country as the troops withdraw.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military this week launched several airstrikes in support of Afghan government forces fighting Taliban insurgents, including in strategically important Kandahar province, officials said Thursday.

The strikes demonstrate the United States’ intention to continue supporting Afghan forces with fighter jets based out of the country, at least until the scheduled conclusion of the U.S. military withdrawal on August 31. The Biden administration has not said whether it will continue this support after the withdrawal. Completed.

The United States has a variety of Middle East-based fighter jets within range of Afghanistan, including warplanes aboard an aircraft carrier in the region and fighters and bombers in the region. Persian Gulf.

Asked by a reporter about reports of a Navy FA-18 airstrike in the Kandahar area, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby did not confirm details, including the type of ‘plane or location, but said, “Over the past few days we have acted, through airstrikes, to support the ANDSF,” using an acronym for Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. “But I won’t go into the technical details of these strikes.”

These are the first known US airstrikes in Afghanistan since General Scott Miller, who had been the top US commander in the country, relinquished his command and left the country last week. The power to launch airstrikes against the Taliban has since been vested in General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, who oversees US military engagement in the greater Middle East.

Following Kirby’s comments, another defense official said that on Wednesday and Thursday the United States carried out a total of more than four airstrikes in support of Afghan forces. At least two of the strikes were aimed at destroying military equipment, including an artillery piece and a vehicle, which the Taliban had taken from Afghan forces, the official said. The Afghans have called for the strikes, as well as those targeting Taliban fighting positions, including at least one strike in the southern province of Kandahar.

US officials have urged the Afghans to use their own fighter jets, as well as their US-trained ground forces. In recent months, Afghan forces have ceded a significant amount of territory to the Taliban, raising questions about their ability to hold out after the United States completes its withdrawal.

In a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people, urging them to assert their will on the battlefield.

“The Afghan security forces have the capacity to fight and sufficiently defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan security forces if necessary in accordance with the directives of the President and the Secretary of Defense,” Milley said.

Milley said the Taliban now controls about half of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan, and although they have yet to capture any of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, they are putting pressure on about half of them. As the Taliban seize more territory, Afghan security forces are consolidating their positions to protect major population centers, including Kabul, he said.

“A significant amount of territory has been seized in the last six, eight or ten months by the Taliban, so the momentum seems to be – the strategic momentum seems to be – sort of with the Taliban,” Milley said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that after August 31, the deadline set by President Joe Biden to complete the military withdrawal, the US military focus will be on addressing threats to the US homeland. from extremist groups in Afghanistan. He added that the administration will provide financial and other support to the Afghan defense forces even in the absence of combat troops or attack planes based there.

“Make no mistake, we remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government move forward, and we are doing what we said we were going to do by putting the pieces in place to make sure we can provide that support, ”Austin said.

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