In the month before the 18-year anniversary of the Afghan war’s initiation, US forces carried out more airstrikes against the Taliban and other Islamist militia targets than they had in 10 years.
According to a new report by US Air Forces Central Command (USAFCC) published on September 30, September 2019 saw more US airstrikes than any month since October 2010, with 1,043 bombs being dropped on targets in the country.
“We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down” in early September, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper admitted earlier this week during a trip to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. “We did pick up the pace considerably.”
Moreover, August saw more airstrikes than any previous month in 2019, according to USAFCC data, with some 783 airstrikes by manned and unmanned aircraft.
However, this year’s strike total hasn’t yet surpassed that of 2018, the most airstrike-heavy year for the US, which has been fighting the Taliban and other rebellious militias since it invaded the country on October 7, 2001. Last year, the US dropped 7,362 aircraft munitions – more than in the three previous years combined.
At the end of 2018, US diplomats and Taliban emissaries began nine grueling months of peace talks in Doha, Qatar, attempting to hammer out a deal that would see most US forces depart the country in exchange for a pledge by the Taliban to forswear terrorism. However, just days before Taliban leaders were due to sign the agreement at Camp David in Maryland, a suicide car bomb by the group in Kabul killed a US servicemember, and US President Donald Trump called off the accord in a rage, declaring the peace talks “dead” and stepping up the campaign against the Taliban and other groups in the country, such as a Daesh franchise.
“In effect, the Trump administration has given its blessing to US forces to use a more gloves-off approach on the battlefield that raises the risk of civilian casualties,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told AP for a Monday article.
According to UN statistics, roughly 16,000 civilians have been killed in the war since 2009. However, so far in 2019, the US accounts for more civilian deaths in the country than do the Taliban, their primary adversaries, whom the US labels as “terrorists.”
“These increasing civilian deaths threaten to turn the tide of Afghan public opinion against the United States at a moment when there is already a risk of US forces wearing out their welcome,” Kugelman said.