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 TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser 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 approves North Carolina disaster declaration for Florence GOP says House votes will take place despite Hurricane Florence S.C. governor orders evacuation along state coastline MORE (R-N.C.), a long critic of the war, asked Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges 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) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap 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.”