By Ayaz Gul
The United States said Monday it had conducted an airstrike in central Afghanistan, killing at least five Taliban insurgents.
A military spokesman explained in a tweet the overnight action in Nerkh district in Wardak province was taken to defend Afghan security forces in line with a February deal between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the nearly two decades of war.
“We reject the allegations of violating the agreement and of killing innocent Afghans,” said Col. Sonny Leggett. He was responding to allegations by the Taliban that a U.S. drone strike Sunday evening “in recurrent violation” of the agreement killed three children in Nerkh.
The Taliban alleged earlier this month that the U.S. military was committing violations of their February 29 pact by carrying out airstrikes in areas other than combat zones.
The U.S.-Taliban accord requires all American and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. In return, the insurgents have stopped attacks on foreign forces and pledged to fight terrorism as well as negotiate a permanent ceasefire with Afghan rivals.
The historic peace initiative opened first-ever direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban on September 12 in Qatar’s capital, Doha. But the intra-Afghan dialogue has not produced any significant breakthrough due to lingering disputes between the two negotiating teams over procedural matters.
While the peace talks in Doha face a stalemate, intensified battlefield hostilities have in recent weeks inflicted hundreds of casualties on combatants from both sides and on Afghan civilians.
On Saturday, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 24 people, mostly young students, and injured nearly 60 others in an attack on an educational center in Kabul.
The violence prompted U.S. officials to again call on all Afghan parties to reduce violence in support of the political peace process.
On Monday, the United Nations reiterated its call for a “humanitarian cease-fire” in Afghanistan. The U.N. mission to the country said in a tweet that the cessation of hostilities will enable all parties to fight the common enemy of the coronavirus pandemic and prepare “critical” humanitarian assistance for all vulnerable Afghans before winter sets in.