U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has intensified the American air war against the resilient Taliban and growing Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in Afghanistan, dropping 3,328 bombs on the jihadists so far in 2017, more than during any other full year since 2012, military figures reveal.
According to recently released data from the U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT), which covers military activity in the Middle East and the Afghanistan region, the American military had dropped 3,328 munitions on Afghan terrorists as of the end of September, exceeding the number of bombs launched during all of 2016 (1,337), 2015 (947), 2014 (2,365), and 2013 (2,758), respectively.
The U.S. airstrikes launched on Afghan targets so far this year more than tripled the bombs dropped during the same period (January through September) last year.
Airstrikes this year, if they continue at the same pace, could also very well surpass the record 4,084 weapons dropped in 2012.
In September alone, the Trump administration dropped more bombs than any other month since 2012.
While the Afghan Taliban and its allies remain the most prominent terrorist threat in Afghanistan, the United Nations reported that Islamic State branch in the country, known as the Khorasan province (ISIS-K), has expanded its reach to unprecedented levels in the last few months — extending its presence from one to seven provinces and escalating its attacks.
Nevertheless, AFCENT notes that the Trump administration is determined to defeat the Taliban and ISIS-K, crediting the president’s new Afghan war strategy with the increase in airstrikes against the two groups.
“September marked a record high month for weapons employed in Afghanistan since 2012, with 751 munitions being delivered against Taliban and ISIS – Khorasan targets; a 50 percent jump from August,” notes the U.S. Air Force in a statement published with the new airstrike data, adding:
This increase can be attributed to the President’s strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people. Additionally, the recent addition of six F-16s at Bagram Air Base, coupled with more B-52 missions dedicated to Afghanistan, offer the additional strike capacity needed to target these groups.
Last week, top Pentagon officials told lawmakers the Trump administration had lifted restrictions on the rules of engagement (ROE) for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, no longer requiring them to be in contact with terrorists in Afghanistan before opening fire.
“So these kinds of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the air powerfully have been removed, yes,” U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told lawmakers.
“We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” Pentagon chief Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee in the afternoon. “It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”
Mattis noted that Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan has the authority to decide when to target the enemy.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified alongside Mattis, explained that there is no terrorist group in Afghanistan that the U.S. commander does not have the authority to pursue.
“Wherever we find them, anyone who is trying to throw the NATO plan off, trying to attack the Afghan government, then we can go after them,” emphasized Mattis.
Under the previous administration, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in early 2012 told lawmakers that the former president had taken away his authority to offensively target the Taliban, only allowing American troops to shoot in self-defense.
In August, President Trump unveiled his South Asia strategy, which primarily focuses on defeating ISIS and pressuring the Taliban into a reconciliation agreement with the Kabul government.