The U.S. military in Afghanistan said Friday that it had carried out an overnight airstrike against Taliban insurgents in defense of government security forces.
U.S. military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett tweeted that the action in southern Kandahar province was in line with the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February. He said armed Taliban fighters were targeted when they were attacking an Afghan security checkpoint in Zhari district.
Leggett did not share more details but denied as “false” insurgent claims that civilians were killed in the strike.
For their part, the Taliban condemned the raid as a violation of the pact with the U.S., saying it destroyed “multiple civilian homes” and killed up to 10 people.
Afghan officials in Kandahar were quoted by local media as asserting the Taliban were waging “coordinated attacks” on security forces when the U.S. military bombed them, killing at least 30 insurgent assailants.
A spokesman for the insurgent group, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed no military activity or fighting was taking place in the area and said the agreement prohibits airstrikes on noncombat zones.
“The continuation of such irresponsible actions can also provoke a mujahedeen [Taliban fighters] response, the responsibility of which shall fall squarely on the shoulders of America,” Ahmadi said.
US troop drawdown
The fighting comes as the U.S. is reducing the number of troops in the country and peace negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government are underway in Qatar, both developments stemming from the February 29 deal.
There are 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and President Donald Trump plans to bring the number down to 2,500 next month.
The U.S.-Taliban accord requires all American and coalition forces to be out of the country by May 2021.
In return, the insurgent group has pledged to fight terrorism on Afghan soil and negotiate a political peace deal with rival groups through talks that began on September 12.
However, continued battlefield hostilities, which are causing an increased number of civilian casualties, have undermined prospects for an early outcome of the intra-Afghan talks.
A new survey released Friday said optimism among Afghans regarding the U.S.-brokered peace process had decreased significantly in the past few months because of the spike in violence.
The Kabul-based Institute of War and Peace Studies found optimism had declined to 57% when the survey was conducted from September 29 through October 18. That’s down from 86% of those surveyed in the previous assessment released in August.
The survey found that nearly 76% respondents said a cease-fire should be the top priority in the talks to prevent further Afghan civilian casualties.