US expands air campaign to northern Afghanistan

US expands air campaign to northern Afghanistan
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The U.S. military has opened a new front in its air war in Afghanistan, announcing Tuesday a series of airstrikes in the northern part of the country.

“Over the past 96 hours, U.S. forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and others,” U.S. Forces Afghanistan said in a press release Tuesday.

U.S. airpower in Afghanistan has ramped up alongside an increase in troops after President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE announced a new strategy over the summer.

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Last month the United States sent a squadron of A-10 Warthogs to Afghanistan for the first time in three years. And in November, U.S. forces began bombing Taliban opium plants in Helmand province.

But the Taliban has carried out a series of deadly, high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent weeks, underscoring Afghanistan’s precarious state.

“The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield, therefore they inflict harm and suffering on innocent civilians," Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in Tuesday’s release. "All they can do is kill innocent people and destroy what other people have built.”

In addition to targeting training facilities, the strikes announced Tuesday destroyed stolen Afghan National Army vehicles that were in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, according to the release.

The East Turkistan Islamic Movement mentioned in the release is an Islamist separatist group formed in northwestern China and cited by the United Nations for ties to al Qaeda.

The strikes included a B-52 Stratofortress dropping 24 precision-guided munitions. That represents a record for a B-52, which “was recently reconfigured with a conventional rotary launcher to increase its reach and lethality,” the release said.

In addition to the strikes in Badakhshan, the United States has continued to target the Taliban’s sources of revenue in Helmand, including narcotics, the release said. Since November, U.S. strikes and Afghan forces raids have allegedly reduced Taliban funding by more than $30 million.

“The Taliban have nowhere to hide," Nicholson said. "There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group bent on bringing harm and destruction to this country."

In D.C. on Tuesday, however, lawmakers were critical of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesTrump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration Overnight Defense: Trump, Kim poised for historic summit | Trump blasts 'haters and losers' hours before meeting | Defense bill to include ZTE penalties | Lawmakers sound alarm over 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive Lawmakers circulate 'urgent call' for Mattis to prevent 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive MORE (R-N.C.), a long critic of the war, asked Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisHillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review Pentagon: Planning for August 'war game' with South Korea suspended Dem: Trump 'Space Force' would 'rip the Air Force apart' MORE during a hearing why “we [are] still shedding our soldiers' blood for pedophiles,” referring to an inspector general report the Pentagon’s policy on child sexual abuse in Afghanistan.

And on the other side of the Capitol, senators on the Foreign Relations Committee questioned a pair of witnesses from the State and Defense departments on the strategy in Afghanistan.

“It’s been nearly six months since the administration announced its new strategy for South Asia, which as far as I can tell is quite similar to the old strategy,” Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo MORE (D-N.J.) said. “I understand the administration is focused on conditions-based metrics for success for eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, but I hope we can get a little more clarity to what exactly are our desired outcomes for our troops and our foreign policy goals in Afghanistan.”