U.S. Aircraft Strike Taliban Fighters Shortly After Peace Deal

U.S. aircraft targeted Taliban fighters who had attacked an Afghan military checkpoint on March 4, just days after a peace deal to end the war in Afghanistan was signed.

The strike in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province—the first against the Taliban in 11 days—came one day after the group conducted 43 attacks on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces checkpoints in Helmand alone, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement.

The incident comes about four days after the US and Taliban signed an agreement to end the war, and one day after President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Taliban leadership.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, testifying March 4 at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, played down the importance of the attacks. While the Taliban agreed to a “whole series of conditions” under the deal, there have been a “variety of attacks” since, he said. However, he also noted these attacks have not taken place in Kabul or in provincial capitals, and the Taliban has not conducted “high-profile” attacks with suicide bombers or those targeting U.S. forces.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, speaking at the same hearing, said the agreement allows the U.S. to defend Afghan allies. While the Taliban has been “honoring their piece of the agreement by not attacking U.S. or coalition forces,” it has not been scaling back its activity to a large extent, Esper said. The group has a collection of both “hard liners and soft liners,” and keeping all of the fighters on board with the deal has been a challenge, he said.

The “critical thing in the next few days will be getting the conditions set” for an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Esper said.