U.S. launches airstrikes against Taliban in response to attacks in Afghan province

Afghans flee their villages after fighting intensified between Taliban militants and security forces, in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of restive Helmand province, Afghanistan, 12 October 2020. The clashes comes as both the Taliban and Afghan government are in the process of taking the peace talks forward in Doha, Qatar. EPA/WATAN YAR

American forces carried out several airstrikes in support of Afghan security forces under attack by the Taliban in southern Helmand province, a spokesperson for the U.S. military in Afghanistan said Monday.

Col. Sonny Leggett said the recent Taliban attacks in Helmand are “not consistent” with a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February and undermine ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks. He said the airstrikes do not violate the February deal.

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The Taliban “need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country,” Leggett said in a statement on Twitter, quoting Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Leggett said that U.S. forces have and will continue to provide support in defence of Afghan national security forces under attack by the Taliban.

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The announcement of U.S. strikes came after a gunbattle on Monday was reported in and around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Witnesses reported sporadic shooting in the city and said some residents fled from the districts of Nad Ali and Nawa because of the fighting.

Omer Zwak, spokesperson for the provincial governor in Helmand, said Taliban fighters had started their co-ordinated attacks in different parts of the province over the past week and that these had intensified over the weekend.

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“The Taliban have destroyed several bridges over the main highway, so the highway is closed right now and no one can travel,” said Zwak.

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Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are holding intra-Afghan negotiations in Qatar, a Gulf country where the Taliban have had a political office for many years. The negotiations are meant to end the country’s decades-long war.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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