US launches first airstrikes on Taliban since Afghan ceasefire ended

Taliban have largely refrained from launching major attacks on cities but continue targeting Afghan forces. (Reuters pic)

KABUL: The US launched its first airstrikes against the Taliban since a rare ceasefire between the insurgents and Afghan forces ended more than a week ago, the US military said Friday.

The two assaults took place on Thursday and Friday in separate provinces in Afghanistan, US forces spokesman Sonny Leggett said on Twitter.

“These were the 1st US airstrikes against (the Taliban) since the start of the Eid ceasefire,” he wrote.

“We reiterate: All sides must reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold,” he added.

10 members of the Afghan forces were killed on Friday in a separate attack targeting a Humvee vehicle, the Interior Ministry said, blaming the assault on the Taliban.

There was no immediate comment from the group.

The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire with Afghan forces that ended on May 26 to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

There has since been an overall drop in violence across the country, with the Afghan government saying it is ready to start long-delayed peace talks with the insurgents.

The US negotiator with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, left Friday for the region to discuss “the practical next steps necessary for a smooth start to intra-Afghan negotiations,” the State Department said.

He will visit Kabul as well as Qatar, where he regularly meets the Taliban, as well as Pakistan, the historic ally of the insurgents.

Washington signed a landmark deal with the Taliban in February, in which the United States pledged to withdraw all its troops in return for security guarantees in a bid to pave the way for negotiations between warring Afghan sides.

The Taliban have largely refrained from launching major attacks on Afghan cities since the deal was signed, but have continued to target Afghan forces.

Under the agreement, which excluded the Afghan government, Washington and the militants said they would refrain from attacking each other.

However, the Pentagon last month said it would continue to conduct defensive strikes against the Taliban when they attack Afghan partners.

The February deal will see all US and foreign forces quit Afghanistan by mid-2021, nearly 20 years after Washington first invade.

Thousands of US troops have already gone, with a senior US defence official last month putting the number left in the country at approximately 8,500.