Taliban militants and villagers in Laghman province, celebrating Doha deal.

US forces strike Taliban after they attack on Afghan forces

US air force has carried out strike against the Taliban in the southern Helmand province after the group resumed attacks on the Afghan forces. The Taliban restarted their attacks on Afghan forces soon after the Afghan President refused 5000 prisoner swap.   

As many as 36 Afghan defense and security forces (ANDSF) were killed and nearly 20 others wounded since last night in five provinces, according to local officials.

Taliban attacks come after a 35-minute-long phone conversation between the US President Donald Trump and deputy leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, held last night – the first call between a US president and the militant group.

“We’ve agreed that there’s no violence, we don’t want violence. And we’ll see what happens,” Trump said of his phone conversation with the Taliban’s deputy leader who signed a peace deal with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

According to the ABC News, Baradar has told Trump that if the US honors the peace agreement concluded with the group, then they will have a positive bilateral relations in the future.  

Trump told Baradar, “It is a pleasure to talk to you. You are a tough people and have a great country, and I understand that you are fighting for your homeland. We have been there for 19 years, and that is a very long time, and withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan now is in the interest of everyone,” according to a script of the phone-conversation released by the Taliban.

First US airstrike targets Taliban after peace deal

Spokesperson for the US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Legget, said in a tweet that on March 3th alone, the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on ANDSF checkpoints in Helmand. “The Taliban claim to be fighting to free Afghanistan from international forces, the Feb 29 agreement provides a condition-based path to withdrawal,” he noted.

He confirmed that the US conducted an airstrike on March 04 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand, noting that this was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack.

The US official says that the Taliban leadership have promised to international community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. “We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments. As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required,” he further noted.

Local Afghan officials have confirmed that the Taliban militants have launched deadly attacks since early morning of March 04 against ANDSF at least in Kunduz, Takhar, Urozgan, and Logar provinces.

The US airstrike against the Taliban comes while a Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, has urged the militants to refrain from attacks against foreign forces. Talking to BBC Persian Service on Monday, March 02, he said that the “reduction in violence” period was over and they have already resumed their attacks against the ANDSF.

A ‘fragile agreement’

Despite optimism expressed by negotiating parties on the Doha deal, realities on the ground and differences raised subsequently over some provisions of the agreement say otherwise. Appearing in a press conference, held a day after the agreement, President Ghani made a very clear objection over the very core provision of the deal that stipulates a prisoners exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government before March 10, the first day of the intra-Afghan talks. Mr. Ghani said that the Afghan government had no commitment to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and he had shared it repeatedly with Mr. Khalilzad.   

Spokesman for Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, reiterated Tuesday, March 03, that a decision must be made about exchange of around 6,000 (5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 prisoners of Afghan forces) prisoners between prisoner’s officials of the Afghan government and the Taliban before start of the intra-Afghan peace talks.

In a short interview with TOLONews today, March 04, Commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, described the partial truce held during last week as “a start for peace pathway”, noting that all sides, specially military of all sides, have obligations to make sure that pathway is achievable. He added that the international forces are defending Afghan forces by providing them aerial support.

Mr. Miller reiterated on lowering violence by all sides notifying that with the very direct discussions with the Taliban, they need to lower their violence.

“The agreement is fragile [as] the Taliban are not going to lower the violence,” Miller said.