U.S. Carries Out Multiple Airstrikes to Support Afghan Forces as They Fight Taliban

The U.S. carried out multiple airstrikes this week to support Afghan forces as they fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

The move comes as the U.S. phases out its troop withdrawal from the country that President Joe Biden said will be complete by Aug. 31. A defense official said more than four U.S. airstrikes occurred Wednesday and Thursday and at least two targeted military equipment that the Taliban stole from Afghan forces.

In addition, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also acknowledged the moves without providing specifics.

"In the last several days we have acted, through airstrikes, to support the ANDSF," Kirby said, referring to the Afghan national defense and security forces. "But I won't get into technical details of those strikes."

U.S. Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday the Taliban has overrun roughly half of Afghanistan's 419 district centers at a Pentagon news conference.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby discussed how the U.S carried out multiple airstrikes in Afghanistan in support of Afghan forces combatting the Taliban. In this photo, Kirby conducts a briefing at the Pentagon, Jan. 9, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The U.S. military's airstrikes included hitting the strategically important province of Kandahar, officials said Thursday.

The strikes demonstrate U.S. intentions to continue supporting Afghan forces with combat aircraft based outside the country, at least until the scheduled conclusion of the U.S. military withdrawal. The Biden administration has not said whether it will continue that support after the pullout is complete.

The U.S. has a variety of combat aircraft based in the Middle East within range of Afghanistan, including warplanes aboard an aircraft carrier in the region and fighters and bombers in the Persian Gulf area.

Asked by a reporter about news reports of a Navy FA-18 airstrike in the Kandahar area, Kirby did not confirm specifics, including the type of aircraft or location.

These are the first known U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan since Gen. Scott Miller, who had been the top U.S. commander in the country, relinquished his command and left the country last week. The authority to launch airstrikes against the Taliban has since been in the hands of Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, who oversees U.S. military involvement in the greater Middle East.

The Afghans requested those strikes hitting the stolen military equipment, as well as those targeting Taliban fighting positions, including at least one strike in the southern province of Kandahar.

U.S. officials have urged the Afghans to make use of their own combat aircraft, as well as their U.S.-trained ground forces. In recent months the Afghan forces have ceded a significant amount of territory to the Taliban, raising questions about their ability to hold out after the U.S. completes its withdrawal.

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people, urging them to assert their will on the battlefield.

"The Afghan security forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan security forces where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defense," Milley said.

Milley said the Taliban have yet to capture any of the country's 34 provincial capitals but they are pressuring about half of them. As the Taliban seize more territory, the Afghan security forces are consolidating their positions to protect key population centers, including Kabul, he said.

"A significant amount of territory has been seized over the course of six, eight, 10 months by the Taliban, so momentum appears to be—strategic momentum appears to be—sort of with the Taliban," Milley said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that after Aug. 31, the main U.S. military focus will be on countering threats to the U.S. homeland from extremist groups inside Afghanistan. He added the administration will provide financial and other kinds of support to Afghan defense forces, even with no combat troops or strike aircraft based there.

"Make no mistake that we remain committed to helping the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government going forward, and we are doing what we said we were going to do in terms of putting the pieces in place to ensure that we can provide that support," Austin said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the Taliban have yet to capture any of the Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals. Milley, right, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin take part in a press briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday in Washington. Kevin Wolf/AP Photo