Recent U.S. airstrikes violate a peace agreement struck earlier this year in the province of Helmand and elsewhere in Afghanistan, Taliban officials said Sunday in a sharp war of words with the Pentagon as bloodshed escalates across the country.
The renewed violence between the two sides raises questions about how long the landmark peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban, signed in February, will last. The agreement calls for a reduction in violence, but the Taliban have launched an aggressive military campaign in recent weeks in the province of Helmand.
The intense struggle between the insurgents of the Taliban and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) led the United States to send air support. The Taliban claims that the airstrikes, known as the Doha agreement, represent a violation of the pact.
"By carrying out excessive airstrikes following the new developments in Helmand province, American forces have violated the Doha Agreement in various forms," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted.
Immediately, U.S. military officials responded and fiercely denied breaking the deal.
The Taliban's claim that the United States has violated the U.S.-Taliban Agreement is categorically rejected. In a series of tweets Sunday morning, U.S. airstrikes in Helmand and Farah [provinces] have been and continue to be solely in defense of the ANDSF as they are being attacked by the Taliban, ” U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said. "The U.S.-Taliban Agreement and the Joint Declaration between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States are consistent with these strikes."
"Col. Leggett said:" The whole world has witnessed the offensive operations of the Taliban in Helmand, attacks that injured and displaced thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. "We reiterate our call for ALL SIDES to reduce violence so that it can take hold of the political process."
In exchange for promises that the Taliban would never again allow the country to be a safe haven for terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, the U.S.-Taliban agreement laid the groundwork for the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.
The agreement also outlined the conditions for prisoner swaps between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan and called for direct talks between the two sides. Last month, the Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan government began their first face-to-face negotiations, even as their military forces clash nationwide.
The Pentagon is moving ahead with a reduction in troop levels against that chaotic backdrop.
When the deal was finalized in February, there were roughly 12,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan. That number has been rapidly reduced to around 8,500, and military officials say it will be down to 4,500 soon.
Earlier this month, President Trump said all soldiers might be home by Christmas, but other administration officials now say that about 2,500 will still be in Afghanistan early next year.
The U.S.-Taliban deal calls for the removal by next spring or summer of all American forces, although an exact exit date has not been established.