March 4 (UPI) — The U.S. military carried out an airstrike against Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province Wednesday, its first action against the militant group since the signing of a peace deal last weekend.
U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett called the drone strike at Nahr-e Saraj a “defensive” move to protect Afghan government troops under attack by Taliban fighters at a checkpoint.
“This was our first strike against the Taliban in 11 days,” Leggett tweeted, adding that attacks on Afghan troops have been frequent in the days since the deal was signed Saturday.
Under the terms of the settlement, the United States will begin a phased withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to start intra-Afghan negotiations with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. The agreement was reached following the completion of a week-long “reduction in violence.”
Another part of the deal called for an exchange of prisoners, as a confidence-building measure ahead of the planned direct talks beginning next week. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, rejected that provision and the Taliban said it would resume attacks.
At least 25 Afghan troops were killed in three separate Taliban attacks overnight Tuesday, CNN reported.
“The Taliban claim to be fighting to free Afghanistan from international forces, the Feb 29 agreement provides a conditions-based path to withdrawal,” Leggett said.
“To be clear,” he added, “we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our [Afghan army] partners. Afghans and [the] U.S. have complied with our agreements; however, [Taliban fighters] appear intent on squandering this.”
The U.S. airstrike came just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to chief Taliban negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar by telephone.
The president told reporters Tuesday he “had a very good talk” with Baradar.
“We have agreed there is no violence, don’t want violence. We will see what happens. They’re dealing with Afghanistan but we will see what happens.”