The Taliban and China called Wednesday for the United States to stop flying drones over Afghanistan’s airspace, saying such actions were in breach of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and a mutual agreement.
“We recently saw [the] United States violating all international rights, law and …commitments [made] to the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] in Doha, Qatar, as Afghanistan's sacred airspace is being invaded by U.S. drones,” the Taliban said in a statement.
The Islamist group referred to its February 2020 agreement with Washington that paved the way for U.S. and NATO troops to leave the country. The withdrawal process concluded last month, marking the end of nearly 20 years of international involvement in the Afghan war.
“We call on all countries, especially the United States, to treat Afghanistan in light of international rights, laws and commitments … in order to prevent any negative consequences,” the Taliban warned without elaborating.
There were no immediate comments from U.S. officials. The warning was apparently issued in response to recent comments by the Pentagon saying Washington retains “all necessary authorities to execute over-the-horizon counterterrorism operations” in Afghanistan.
“We remain confident in these capabilities moving forward,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “Without speaking to specific rules of engagement surrounding airstrikes, there is currently no requirement to clear airspace with the Taliban. And we do not expect that any future over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes would hinge on such a clearance.”
China also voiced opposition Wednesday to the U.S. drone operations in Afghan airspace.
“The U.S. should earnestly respect Afghanistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a news conference in Beijing.
“More importantly, the U.S. should stop habitually imposing wanton military intervention and forcing its own will on others, and avoid repeating the tragedies of plunging people into misery and suffering,” she said.
The Taliban regained power in Kabul in August after U.S.-led NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan, and the Western-backed government and its military collapsed in the face of increased attacks by the Islamist insurgent group.
Washington has said, however, that it will use its “over-the-horizon” capabilities to launch airstrikes from outside the country to counter terror threats from al-Qaida and the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province or ISIS-K.
Last week, the Taliban rejected as “baseless propaganda” U.S. concerns that the two terrorist groups maintain a presence in the country, even as ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombings against Taliban fighters in the eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar in the past week.
ISIS-K also took credit for an August 26 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, when thousands of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans were trying to catch U.S.-run emergency evacuation flights out of the country. The attack killed more than 170 people, including 13 American service members.