Defense

Pentagon watchdog: Taliban has conducted ‘small number’ of attacks on US-led coalition

The Taliban has conducted a “small number” of attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan despite its agreement with the Trump administration banning such attacks, a Pentagon watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

From July through September, U.S. Forces Afghanistan “reported that there were instances of indirect fire and surface-to-air attacks against the coalition,” the lead inspector general for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel wrote in the report.

The inspector general report marks the first official confirmation that the Taliban has launched attacks against coalition forces in violation of the U.S.-Taliban deal.

A separate inspector general asked the U.S. military whether the Taliban has conducted attacks that violate the agreement for a report released earlier this month, but the responses for that report were classified.

The New York Times reported in August that the Taliban was suspected of firing rockets at two U.S. military bases that month and in July, but that there were no U.S. casualties.

The Pentagon told the inspector general the Taliban in August “launched a rocket attack against a coalition base in Helmand, but the Taliban denied responsibility.”

Citing the Times report, the inspector general raised the possibility that a “Taliban faction opposing the U.S.-Taliban agreement may have carried out the attack.”

A spokesperson for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s inspector general report.

The confirmation of Taliban attacks against the coalition comes as President Trump is expected to soon order a further drawdown of U.S. troops.

The U.S. military this month is reaching 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, down from 8,600 earlier this year. Now, Trump is expected to order an additional cut to 2,500 troops before he leaves office in January.

The prospect of pulling more troops from Afghanistan has elicited strong pushback from top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He warned Monday that withdrawing from Afghanistan “would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday he expects acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to brief him on plans for troop drawdowns later in the day, but that he currently doesn’t “know of any condition which justifies reducing further” the number of troops in Afghanistan.

The military has also been arguing against going below 4,500 troops, arguing conditions on the ground do not warrant a further drawdown as the Taliban fails to uphold its agreement with the United States.

Military officials have repeatedly said they would assess conditions on the ground before dropping below 4,500 troops, including the Pentagon telling the inspector general for Tuesday’s report that “once it reaches that number, it will pause troop reductions and assess the situation.”

The U.S.-Taliban deal, signed in February, calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.

In Tuesday’s report, the inspector general said the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assesses that al Qaeda supports the U.S.-Taliban deal “because it does not require the Taliban to publicly renounce al-Qaeda, and the deal includes a timeline for the United States and coalition forces to withdraw—accomplishing one of al-Qaeda’s main goals.”

“Additionally, [al Qaeda] remains willing to abide by any agreements made by the Taliban in order to preserve a guaranteed safe haven in Taliban-controlled areas, according to the DIA,” the report added.

The Taliban has also stepped up attacks against Afghan forces since it signed the agreement with the United States, something U.S. officials have repeatedly condemned as threatening to the peace process.

Taliban attacks against Afghan forces were “above seasonal norms” this quarter, the inspector general said, but the exact number has been classified since earlier this year because of U.S. concerns that releasing the information could affect ongoing talks with the Taliban.

Tags Afghanistan Donald Trump Mac Thornberry Mitch McConnell Pentagon Taliban watchdog

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