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US strikes Taliban in Helmand in defense of Afghan forces

US strikes Taliban in Helmand in defense of Afghan forces
© Getty Images

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have conducted airstrikes against the Taliban in recent days to support Afghan forces who came under attack in Helmand province, a spokesman said Monday.

In a tweet, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said the U.S. military has conducted “several targeted strikes” to defend Afghan forces “over the past two days,” which he described as “consistent” with the U.S. agreement with the Taliban.

"The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country,” Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement issued from Leggett’s Twitter account. “It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks."

The U.S.-Taliban agreement, signed in February, allows the United States to come to the defense of its Afghan partners, but the U.S. military has largely refrained from publicizing its strikes since the deal was signed.

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Monday’s tweets appear to be the first announcement of airstrikes since June. Before that, U.S. Forces Afghanistan last publicized a strike against the Taliban in March, days after the withdrawal agreement was signed.

Under the deal, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking U.S. forces. But since the deal was signed, the insurgents have stepped up attacks on Afghan forces, which was not prohibited in the agreement.

Still, U.S. officials have repeatedly called out the Taliban for what they describe as unacceptably high levels of violence that are inconsistent with the agreement.

The strikes announced Monday come after reports of a gun battle in and around Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province.

Omer Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor in Helmand, told The Associated Press that Taliban fighters started coordinated attacks in different parts of the province over the past week and that the attacks intensified over the weekend.

The latest attacks come while peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are ongoing in Qatar. Regional experts say the Taliban sees violence as its greatest source of leverage in the talks, in which the two sides remain far apart on issues such as a cease-fire and women’s rights.