The U.S. military says its new counterterrorism airstrikes are meant to support Afghanistan in reassuring neighboring countries that it is not a “safe sanctuary” for terrorists who want to carry out cross-border attacks.
The air campaign is targeting and destroying Taliban training camps in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, the U.S. military said Thursday.
It said the camps in the remote mountainous region were also supporting activities of the anti-China terrorist organization known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM.
The training camps support terrorist operations inside Afghanistan as well as operations conducted by ETIM in the border region with China and Tajikistan,” according to a U.S. statement.
It added that Afghan security forces are also attacking militants linked to the Afghan branch of Islamic State “attempting to secure a foothold in northern Afghanistan.”
ETIM claims to be representing ethnic Uighur Muslims in China’s restive western Xinjiang region, which borders Afghanistan.
Chinese authorities accuse ETIM of being behind terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country. Beijing has long maintained Afghan border regions and the adjoining Pakistani tribal belt have sheltered ETIM militants.
“There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group,” said General John Nicholson, who commands U.S. forces and NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“We continue to strike them wherever we find them. We continue to hunt them across the country.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed Thursday U.S. airstrikes have targeted civilian areas in Badakhshan and insurgents have not suffered any losses. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. The Taliban often inflates battlefield details.