US launches airstrike against Taliban

The U.S. launched an airstrike against the Taliban in Afghanistan on Wednesday, days after the Trump administration signed a deal with the military group.

A spokesperson for the U.S. military said the strike was launched to interrupt a Taliban attack on a checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), the latest in what the spokesperson said was a string of attacks on such installations.

“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days,” Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson for the U.S. operation in Afghanistan, tweeted.

ADVERTISEMENT

“On March 3rd alone, the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on #ANDSF checkpoints in #Helmand. The Taliban claim to be fighting to free Afg. from int’l forces, the Feb 29 agreement provides a conditions-based path to withdrawal,” he added. 

The checkpoint attacks and the U.S. military’s response come days after the Trump administration and the Taliban signed an agreement that would lead to a substantial drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.

Under the deal signed Saturday, the U.S. military must decrease troop levels to 8,600 in 135 days. The deal also lays out a timeline for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban lives up to its commitments. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In return, the Taliban vowed to “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” The group also said it would tell its members “not to cooperate” with those who threaten the United States and prevent groups and people endangering the United States from “recruiting, training and fundraising” in the territory it controls.

Officials have said that the deal will be followed by talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, beginning March 10.

However, the prospects for a permanent arrangement have already hit snags, with the Afghan government rejecting a prisoner swap with the Taliban that was supposed to precede talks and the Taliban pulling out of a partial truce the U.S. had expected to be honored throughout negotiations.

Leggett on Wednesday called on the Taliban to abide by their promises to reduce violence but said the group appeared intent on "squandering" the opportunity for peace.

"Taliban leadership promised the int’l community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments," he said. "As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required."

Hours before the U.S. drone attack, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license MORE spoke with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The president said he "had a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban" and that they "have agreed there is no violence, don't want violence."

The Taliban did not comment on the U.S. strike, The Associated Press reported.

But Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujah told the AP on Wednesday that the week during which the group agreed to reduce violence had ended. Overnight Tuesday, at least 25 Afghan soldiers were killed and 13 injured in three Taliban attacks, officials confirmed to CNN. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry reported dozens of Taliban attacks in the past day that targeted citizens and security forces in 16 provinces.

Justine Coleman contributed to this report, which was updated at 7:47 a.m.