US to continue airstrikes to support Afghan forces; fighting to intensify
Kabul: The United States will continue to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan forces facing attacks from the insurgent Taliban, the chief of CentComm said, as foreign forces have drawn down troops in Afghanistan.
“The United States has increased airstrikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie told a news conference in Kabul.
McKenzie took charge of US forces in Afghanistan just weeks ago.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive in recent weeks, taking rural districts and surrounding provincial capitals, after U.S. President Joe Biden said in April U.S. troops would be withdrawn by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
The CentComm chief, however, declined to confirm if the US would continue airstrikes against the Taliban after the September deadline.
“The government of Afghanistan faces a stern test in the days ahead … The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign,” he was quoted as saying by Ariana news. A political solution to end the war is still a possibility, he said.
The Afghan government and Taliban negotiators met earlier in Qatar’s capital, Doha. However, the talks had not produced substantive results.
After facing pushback on the ground, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings, and vital infrastructure, Afghan and U.S. officials have said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that the Afghan security forces’ first job was to make sure they could slow the Taliban’s momentum before attempting to retake territory.
McKenzie said there would likely be a rise in violence after a lull over a Muslim holiday this week and said the Taliban could focus on populated urban centers.
“They are going to have to deal with the cities if they want to try and claw their way back into power,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they are going to be able to capture these urban areas.”