The United States conducted several airstrikes against Taliban forces in support of Afghan government forces targeting captured equipment and artillery. A number of the strikes took place in the strategic province of Kandahar.
These were the first airstrikes since General Scott Miller, the commander of Operation Resolute Support, left the country as part of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan which is slated to be complete by August 31. The authority for these airstrikes is now in the hands of General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
The airstrikes signal that the U.S. will support its Afghan allies, at least until the American withdrawal is complete. After that, however, it is unclear whether the U.S. will continue its support.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm any specifics, including the type of aircraft or specific location of the target. Nevertheless, he said that “In the last several days we have acted, through airstrikes, to support the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] (ANDSF).”
When he was asked about Navy F-18 airstrikes in Kandahar he refused to go into the details of the strikes.
Airstrikes Against the Taliban as Situation Deteriorates
After Kirby’s press conference, another defense official filled in the blanks and told news media that on Wednesday and Thursday, the United States conducted a total of more than four airstrikes. At least two of the strikes were to destroy military equipment, including an artillery piece and a vehicle that the U.S had left for the Afghan troops but which had been captured by the Taliban. These airstrikes included at least one strike in the southern province of Kandahar, according to the official.
In the past month, the U.S. has conducted several drone strikes in support of the Afghan government.
CENTCOM announced on Tuesday that the U.S. has “completed more than 95 [percent] of the entire withdrawal process.” As the U.S.-led coalition withdraws, the Taliban have increased the attacks on Afghan forces and have swept across many provinces.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley said on Wednesday that the Taliban currently control about half of the 419 districts in Afghanistan but none of the 34 provincial capitals. Nonetheless, they continue to intensify their attacks on Afghan forces.
Referring to the withdrawal effort, Milley said that “The sheer volume of movement involved in this operation has been extraordinary,” adding that the U.S. conducted more than 980 cargo airlifts in less than three months.
“Furthermore, all the military operating bases, outside of Kabul, have been fully transferred to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan security forces.”
Milley, reiterating what President Biden had said earlier this month, said that the future of the Afghan people will be decided by Afghans and that the ANDSF has the necessary tools to fight the Taliban.
“The Afghan security forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan security forces where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defense,” Milley specified.
Nevertheless, Milley mentions that the situation on the ground is grim. “A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be — strategic momentum appears to be… sort of with the Taliban,“ the general said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that after the U.S. withdraws, it will continue to support the Afghan government but will shift its focus to countering threats to the U.S. against terrorist groups operating inside Afghanistan.
“Make no mistake that we remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government going forward, and we are doing what we said we were going to do in terms of putting the pieces in place to ensure that we can provide that support,” Austin said.
Yet, he neglected to say how that will be accomplished with no U.S. presence in the region after August 31.