Wednesday 18 September 2019

US prepares to step up strikes on Taliban after Trump calls off talks

A crater caused by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: AP
A crater caused by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: AP

Ben Farmer

US forces are preparing to redouble efforts to kill Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, in an attempt to put more pressure on the insurgents after Donald Trump called off negotiations.

US commanders are expected to step up the tempo of their campaign of airstrikes and raids targeting militant leaders, military sources said.

The Taliban is expected to respond with its own increase in operations, leaving Afghanistan braced for intensified violence in the coming weeks.

"[The Americans] have said they are really going to go after their leaders now," said one source.

Both sides refused to halt fighting while talks continued in Doha over the past year, as they attempted to convert military pressure into negotiating strength.

"In the last 10 days we've killed over 1,000 Taliban," said Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, after Mr Trump cancelled talks.

"If you're the Taliban, conditions have been worsening - and they're about to get worse," he added.

Asked if that meant a rise in military activity, he said: "No one should underestimate President Trump's commitment to achieving those goals."

The Taliban continued its own campaign of indiscriminate bombing during the talks and warned that Mr Trump's cancellation of negotiations would lead to more bloodshed.

The move "will harm America more than anyone else", the group said in a statement.

"It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure, and present its political interactions as erratic."

Scattered violence continued across the country yesterday.

A roadside bomb blast in the capital Kabul wounded three civilians.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for attacks on at least two districts of north-eastern Takhar province overnight, and a heavy gun battle continued in the district of Khwaja Ghar.

The insurgents also launched a series of assaults on provincial capitals last week.

The main highway between Kabul and the capital of the northern province of Baghlan remained blocked, a week after the Taliban attacked Pul-e Khumri, and gun battles continued.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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