The United States will continue to carry out air raids in support of Afghan forces, a senior US military commander has said, amid an increase in attacks by the Taliban ahead of the foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Taliban have won a string of battlefield victories in recent weeks as US-led foreign forces are about to complete their pull-out after 20 years in the country.
US President Joe Biden had earlier pledged that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by September 11 – the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but later moved the deadline up to the end of August.
“The United States has increased air strikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said during a news conference in the capital Kabul on Sunday.
McKenzie, who leads the US Central Command, declined to say whether US forces would continue air raids after the end of their military mission on August 31.
“The government of Afghanistan faces a stern test in the days ahead … The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign,” said McKenzie, adding that a Taliban victory was not inevitable and a political solution remained a possibility.
The Taliban escalated its offensive in recent weeks, taking rural districts and border crossings, and surrounding provincial capitals in what US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said last week was an attempt “to isolate the major population centres”.
Milley said the group had gained control of about half of the country’s 419 districts and was “putting pressure” on 17 of 34 provincial capitals but had not seized control of them.
The Afghan government announced on Saturday that it was imposing a night-time curfew across nearly all of the country’s 34 provinces to stem surging violence amid the sweeping Taliban offensive.
“To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements, a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country”, except for Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in the Qatari capital Doha in recent weeks as part of ongoing peace talks, but they failed to reach an agreement after two days of negotiations ended last weekend.