Pentagon Says It Will Not Clear Anti-Terrorist Airstrikes in Afghanistan with Taliban

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has said that it won't clear its anti-terrorist airstrikes in Afghanistan beforehand with Taliban ruling forces.

Even though U.S. military forces completely withdrew from the country at the end of August, DOD officials have pledged to continue to airstrikes in the region to target terrorists affiliated with ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda.

"We retain all necessary authorities to execute over-the-horizon counterterrorism operations, and we remain confident in these capabilities moving forward," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Military Times.

"Without speaking to specific rules of engagement surrounding airstrikes, there is currently no requirement to clear airspace with the Taliban, and we do not expect that any future over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes would hinge on such a clearance."

Pentagon Defense anti-terrorist airstrikes Afghanistan airstrikes Taliban
The U.S. Department of Defense has said that it will not clear its anti-terrorist airstrikes in Afghanistan beforehand with Taliban ruling forces. In this photo, a Taliban fighter stands guard along a street near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on September 23, 2021. Wakil Kohsar / AFP/Getty

The U.S. usually gets permission from a country's rulers before it conducts anti-terrorism strikes within foreign borders. However, since Afghanistan's elected government fell to Taliban forces in August, the Pentagon now views the country as "essentially a free space," the aforementioned publication wrote.

Kirby didn't say whether the Taliban had granted the U.S. permission to conduct strikes in Afghanistan. He did say, though, that U.S. aircraft will use extra defensive measures to avoid being shot out down by Taliban military forces.

The DOD has worried that terrorists will now flock to Afghanistan since U.S. military forces no longer occupy the country. However, anti-terrorist airstrikes in Afghanistan have also resulted in massive civilian casualties, undermining the DOD's credibility.

On September 17, the DOD admitted that a deadly drone strike against people thought to be members of ISIS-K was indeed a "mistake" that killed 11 civilians, including seven children. The White House didn't say whether any military officials would be held accountable for the deadly error.

DOD officials initially said the strike had killed several suicide bombers who had planned on attacking Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The drone strike had also killed three civilians, the DOD said.

However, the attack actually killed Zemari Ahmadi, a 43-year-old electrical engineer for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based group doing work in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported. It also killed 10 members of his family, including seven children.

At the time of the strike, the U.S. military was actively monitoring terrorist threats in response to ISIS-K agents attacking the airport. The airport became a crowded departure point as the U.S. rushed its efforts to evacuate U.S. civilians, service members and Afghan allies by the United States' agreed-upon August 30 deadline.

The lethal accident caused Republican former President Donald Trump to criticize the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden. However, the number of Afghan civilians killed by airstrike during Trump's presidency rose 330 percent from the previous administration of Democrat Barack Obama.

"The number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent from 2016, the last full year of the Obama Administration, to 2019, the most recent year for which there is complete data from the United Nations," a December 2020 report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University explained.

In 2019 alone, over 700 civilians were killed in Afghanistan by airstrikes. The report explained that this was more than "in any other year since the beginning of the war in 2001 and 2002."

Newsweek contacted the Department of Defense for comment.