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Trump threatens Afghanistan militants after ousting Bolton

Eli Stokols and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before. And that will continue."

It couldn't be immediately confirmed whether the pace of U.S and allied attacks had increased dramatically this week. Pompeo said Sunday that allied attacks had killed 1,000 Taliban "in the last 10 weeks," suggesting the war had intensified while peace negotiations were underway.

In addition to advising Afghan forces, U.S. troops conduct air strikes and special operations raids. About 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Afghanistan.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon made clear the goal in the increased attacks. The U.S. has been fighting the Taliban for 18 years without eradicating it or forcing its surrender.

By some measures, the Islamist militants control more territory now than at any time since U.S. forces helped push them from power in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

"What is really the objective of redoubled airstrikes?" said Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "Is it degrading the Taliban or is this a ploy to get them back to the negotiating table?"

Afghanistan is scheduled to hold a presidential election Sept. 28, and officials in Kabul have braced for more violence. The Taliban has refused to hold formal talks with the Afghan government, describing it as a puppet regime, and has used car bombs, suicide bombings and other attacks against both civilian and military targets.

 

Although Trump said he called off U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, pronouncing them "dead" on Monday, it's not clear what alternative he has if he still intends to withdraw a significant number of U.S. troops before the 2020 election.

Luke Coffey, who researches foreign policy issues for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said violence around the Afghan election could be a bellwether for whether the U.S.-Taliban talks can restart soon.

"This latest episode will tell us how committed the Taliban is to a negotiated settlement," he said.

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

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