In direct violation of the peace deal signed earlier this year, Taliban forces have continued to attack Afghan government troops by carrying out coordinated attacks in Helmand province. In response, the United States carried out several airstrikes in support of the Afghan Army.
Colonel Sonny Leggett, the official spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged that the U.S. had conducted several airstrikes in support of Afghan government troops in Helmand province. He specified that the U.S. did not violate the peace deal signed in February.
Col. Leggett took to Twitter and posted a quote from General Scott Miller, the Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country. It is not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks.”
The airstrikes were conducted after a running gun battle inside and around Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province’s capital. Taliban forces reportedly destroyed several bridges in the area. This effectively closed the highways off to all traffic.
It isn’t the first time since the Feb. 29th peace deal that U.S. forces hit the Taliban with airstrikes. Specifically, back in March, the U.S. had conducted airstrikes on Taliban forces in Helmand province. The strikes were labeled a defensive measure after Taliban forces had attacked a government outpost.
At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry had immediately called out the U.S. for violating the peace agreement with the March stating, “This is a treaty violation because both the US and the Taliban entered into legally binding commitments not to attack. The Taliban did not attack the Americans or other foreign forces. If the U.S. did that, they violated the agreement blatantly.”
In June, American airpower had conducted airstrikes in Farah province as Taliban fighters were attacking government positions. In those airstrikes, three Taliban commanders and at least 13 fighters were killed. During the same day, U.S. airstrikes also hit Taliban forces in Kandahar province.
President Trump has repeatedly stated that he plans on withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Christmas. However, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley has effectively dodged that question stating the Pentagon will look at the situation “responsibly.”
In a remote interview with National Public Radio released early Monday morning, Milley refused to discuss any specifics in regards to a U.S. withdrawal.
“We’re on a plan to do a responsible, deliberate drawdown to about 4,500 here very shortly,” Milley said. “And then future drawdowns will be determined by the president. And I’m not going to disclose specific numbers and what those are. The whole agreement and all of the drawdown plans are conditions-based, and I expect that we’ll have further discussions on the conditions and ensure that they warrant.”
“The key here is that we’re trying to end a war responsibly, deliberately, and to do it on terms that guarantee the safety of the U.S. vital national security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan,” he added.
Adding to the confusion in the administration was a tweet by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien saying that American troops should be drawn down to 2,500 by early 2021. Milley characterized it as “speculation.”
“I think that Robert O’Brien or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m not going to engage in speculation,” Milley said in response. “I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president. And then when we get to the point where we have further discussions and further decisions, those will be appropriately made public.”
The conditions that Milley was referring to concern the agreement between the United States and the Taliban. The U.S.-Taliban deal called for a full U.S. withdrawal by May 2021. However, it stipulates that a complete U.S. withdrawal will only happen if the Taliban uphold their commitment to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups intent on attacking the West. And that hasn’t happened at all according to American intelligence officials.