South Asia and Beyond

U.S. Resumes Strikes Against Taliban After 11 Days, Warns Them To Live Up To Obligations

KABUL: Gen. Scott Miller, Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in a visit to Afghan forces in Kabul on Tuesday said the U.S.-Taliban agreement is a potentially historic agreement for the Afghan people and that “it is fragile if the Taliban are not going to lower violence” and “that causes a risk to the agreement.”

The U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, a district in the southern province of Helmand on Wednesday, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan Col Sonny Leggett tweeted on Wednesday. The airstrike is the first in 11 days, said Leggett. All sides had agreed to a Reduction in Violence (RIV) plan starting on February 22 that was aimed to create conditions for peace and a permanent ceasefire.

But on Monday the Taliban announced the resumption of their military offensive and increased their attacks on the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces in multiple fronts across the country. At least 16 Afghan Army soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province, Afghan security sources told Tolo News on Wednesday.

“The U.S. conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our first strike against the Taliban in 11 days,” USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett tweeted. “Taliban leadership promised the int’l community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments. As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required,” said Col. Sonny Leggett.

“To be clear- we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our ANDSF partners. Afghans and U.S. have complied with our agreements; however, Talibs appear intent on squandering this opportunity and ignoring the will of the people for peace,” said U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett. He said there is a need for the Taliban to lower violence in Afghanistan “otherwise, it’s hard to have an agreement.”

The Taliban in a letter on Monday asked their fighters to resume attacks on the Afghan government forces, but not to attack international troops as part of a deal they signed with the United States.

“The period of reduction in violence across Afghanistan was an important period for the Afghan people,” General Miller said. “It’s a start for peace pathway and what I would say is that all sides–but especially the military of all sides–have obligations to make sure that pathway is achievable. We have shown restraint with the Afghan security forces and we have shown restraint because we know that’s the will of the Afghan people.” He added: “The Taliban have obligations and we need them to live up to their obligations and if they don’t, we have the necessary responses.”
In response to a question if the Taliban attacks Afghan forces, will they have the support of their foreign counterparts, Miller said: “Yes, we will send air support when they (Afghan forces) need it… That support continues and we will continue to defend the Afghan security forces.”

The U.S. resuming strikes against the Taliban comes hours after President Donald Trump had a telephone conversation with the Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Tuesday evening, Qatar time, said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

President Trump, speaking to reporters about the call, said: “We had a good conversation. We’ve agreed there’s no violence. We don’t want violence. We’ll see what happens. They’re dealing with Afghanistan, but we’ll see what happens,” adding “We had, actually, a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban.”

According to the Mujahid’s statement, the Taliban negotiating team as well as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was present during the conversation in which Mullah Baradar welcomed President Trump, saying: “As a representative of the Islamic emirate and the Afghan people, I can say for sure that we can have positive mutual relations in the future if the United States fulfills its commitments.”

“If you stay resolute in the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and in future positive relations–and do not allow anyone to act against the agreed commitments,” Baradar said, in a way that would keep the US “engaged in this long war.”

Trump, as quoted by the Taliban, added: “State secretary (Mike Pompeo) will soon talk to Ashraf Ghani in order to remove hurdles from the way of intra-Afghan negotiations.” Trump also said that the U.S. will take “an active role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction in the future,” said Mujahid.

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