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WASHINGTON: The United States has resumed its air strikes on Taliban positions in Afghanistan, as part of a strategy to force the insurgents to negotiate with the Afghan government.
Defence experts in Washington warn that the new strategy could further increase US pressure on Pakistan to do more against the Afghan Taliban who, the Americans claim, often operated from Pakistani territories.
Pakistan rejects this charge as incorrect and instead urged Washington to use its influence on Kabul to persuade it to act against TTP bases inside Afghanistan.
Late last month, President Barack Obama authorised US military commanders in Afghanistan to conduct offensive strikes against the Taliban and other terrorist groups when they identify targets of strategic value.
US officials said the strikes aimed at making the Taliban realize that they could not win this war. The strikes also indicated Washington’s willingness to continue its military missions in Afghanistan for as long as it took to achieve the desired results, the officials added.
Last week, US Air Force Chief Gen Mark Welsh told reporters in Washington that in the past, the air strikes were used essentially “as an emergency measure,” but this “new role is to help shape the battlespace a little bit more.”
Gen. Welsh also said that the air force was now using “faster airplanes” than it did in the past and US military commanders in Afghanistan had been asked to identify targets ahead of time.
This would give the commanders “more freedom to say… that particular group had ambushed every Afghan patrol that comes through, or, we found a bomb-maker and (want to) take him out,” he said.
Gen. Welsh said the air force would watch its performance in Afghanistan under the new rules of engagement to see whether they had enough aircraft to carry out its expanded role or it needs to “approach US Central Command to discuss adding more.”
Reports in the US media said that fresh air strikes began last week and would continue but Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook declined to provide any details, citing “operational security.”
Other officials told various media outlets that US military advisers could accompany Afghan forces in ground offensives as well.
Mr Cook said the strikes “hit their intended targets” and were “part of an ongoing operation” intended to create “a strategic effect on behalf of the Afghan forces.”
The strikes and their intended goal signal a major departure from the planned end of US combat operations in Afghanistan that President Obama announced in late 2014.
Under the previous plan, the US military was to focus on training and advising Afghan security forces. The previous policy also outlined strict rules of engagement for US aircraft, binding the air force to play only a defensive role.
But late last month, President Obama widened rules of engagement in Afghanistan as he realized that he could not achieve his earlier goal of ending the Afghan war before leaving the White House in January this year.
Reports in the US media suggested that American military commanders still viewed the Taliban as a dangerous force, which could undo US efforts to leave behind a stable Afghanistan.