The United States will continue to conduct airstrikes to support Afghan forces facing off against the Taliban (banned in Russia). General Kenneth Mackenzie, the head of the central command of the US Armed Forces, announced this the other day. Izvestia figured out how this relates to the ongoing withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and what lies behind the words of the military leader.
Are the Americans leaving?
During a press conference in Kabul, General of the Marine Corps, US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie, overseeing operations in Afghanistan, said“The United States has increased the number of airstrikes in support of the Afghan forces over the past few days, and we stand ready to continue this increased level of support if the Taliban continue their attacks.”
However, Mackenzie declined to say whether US forces would continue the airstrikes after completing their military mission on August 31. After meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he stated: “I just won’t be able to comment on the future of US airstrikes after August 31st. I focus on what’s happening here and now. “
US Central Command Chief Kenneth McKenzie during a press conference in Kabul
Photo: REUTERS / Staff
He also added that a Taliban victory is not inevitable and a political solution to the conflict remains possible. Wherein Mackenzie said that logistical support, such as the maintenance of Afghan aircraft, will continue after the withdrawal of US troops. The wrecked planes are expected to be sent to other countries with US bases so that contractors can rebuild them for upcoming battles.
In April 2021, US President Joe Biden announcedthat US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence in the country.
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. NATO troops operate in Afghanistan in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution.
US withdraws troops from Afghanistan
The operation in Afghanistan became the longest protracted international military campaign in the history of the American army. In connection with the curtailment of the American military mission in recent weeks, the Taliban intensified their offensive, capturing rural areas and some provincial capitals.
Finding a compromise
In recent weeks, the Afghan government and the Taliban have met in the Qatari capital of Doha, but diplomats say there has been little progress since the start of the peace talks.
Afghan and US officials say the casualties are causing the army to revise its strategy to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul, as well as other cities, border crossings and infrastructure. The recent offensive by the Taliban led to the capture of more than half of the country’s regional centers. Now they threaten large Afghan cities.
Photo: REUTERS / Ibraheem al Omari
The military forces of Afghanistan have so far been unable to contain the Taliban. However, a series of American airstrikes last week demonstrated that they continue to pose a serious threat, despite the near-complete withdrawal of troops. The Pentagon said last week that the US troop withdrawal was about 95% complete. Airstrikes are virtually the only remaining military means of pressuring the Taliban by the United States.
In recent days, US strikes against Taliban positions around the key southern provincial capital of Kandahar appear to have helped slow the rebel advance and at least give the besieged Afghan forces time to regroup and rearm. However, parts of the city are still under Taliban control.
What will happen next?
The Taliban reacted violently to the strikes, claiming that a 2020 agreement between the militant group and the United States had been violated.
General Mackenzie noted that the United States is forced to launch airstrikes, as it is necessary to repel the attacks of the rebels. He believes that “American support for Afghan forces, which are closely fighting the Taliban, is having a good effect.”
However, the comments of the American general are not consistent with the responses of other senior Pentagon officials on the question of the likelihood of airstrikes against the Taliban after August 31.
Thus, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stated reporters that after the completion of the mission, the US military will focus on counterterrorist attacks on al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants (both organizations are banned in the Russian Federation).
Photo: TASS / EPA / Jalil Rezayee
General Mackenzie admittedthat, since there will be no combat aircraft left in Afghanistan, it will be much more difficult than it was to support the country with airstrikes. The United States has significant air assets in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East from where current missions are carried out. Despite this, according to the general, “they are still limited.”
The Afghan Air Force tried to compensate for the decline in the American air force, delivering several dozen strikes a day. But they face ever-increasing maintenance problems as almost all of the foreign contractors responsible for maintaining combat aircraft have left the country.
After the withdrawal of US troops is complete, officials said a small force of about 650 will remain in Afghanistan, mainly to protect the US embassy and the international airport in Kabul.
US airstrikes may have boosted the morale of Afghan officials or led to some tactical success, but also increased the risk of civilian casualties, especially in urban areas where the Taliban are gaining ground.
There were reports from local authorities about the deaths of civilians as a result of strikes by the Afghan air force. According to UN data, which has systematically recorded since 2009, more women and children were killed and injured in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any other year. The total number of people injured and killed in the country as a result of violence in the first half of the year increased by 47% compared to the same period last year.
Photo: Global Look Press / Xinhua / Rahmatullah ALizadah
Despite the current superiority of the Taliban forces on the battlefield, General Mackenzie has rejected forecasts that the militants are likely to overpower government forces sooner or later. According to US intelligence estimates, the capital Kabul will not hold out for more than six months. Mackenzie believes the Taliban are trying to create a sense of inevitability around their campaign.
The Taliban say they do not want to monopolize power, but insist that peace will not come to Afghanistan until a new government is formed in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is overthrown.
When asked about the Taliban’s demand to remove the current Afghan president as a condition of the peace deal, White House spokesman Jen Psaki confirmedthat Joe Biden supports Ghani.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Photo: Global Look Press / Keystone Press Agency / Pete Marovich
In a phone call, Biden reassured Ghani that he included $ 3.3 billion for Afghan security forces in his fiscal 2022 budget request, according to the White House. The leaders of the two countries agreed that the military offensive by the Taliban “directly contradicts the movement’s statement of support for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”