Taliban assaults Helmand capital as U.S. officials plead for a ‘reduction in violence’

The Taliban launched an all-out assault on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, as U.S. officials continue to wrongly claim that those attacks are in violation of the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal deal.

The Taliban launched its offensive on Lashkar Gah last weekend and shut down the road linking the provincial capital with neighboring Kandahar City. Taliban fighters struck Police Districts 3 and 4, the Babaji area of the city and “three districts that are near the center of the province,” TOLONews reported. Two of the districts appear to be Nawa and Nad Ali.

Afghan police abandoned several checkpoints, ceding the areas to the Taliban.

Afghan Commandos have been deployed to help retake areas of the city. Two Afghan helicopters collided in Nawa district, killing a reported eight to 15 soldiers. The Taliban claimed that Afghan Army Commandos and four pilots were killed in the crash.

The fighting has been so intense that the U.S. military has been forced to launch airstrikes to help beat back the Taliban. Colonel Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said that the military “will continue to provide support in defense of the ANDSF under attack by the Taliban.”

U.S. officials, including General Scott Miller, the commander of USFOR-A and Resolute Support Mission, and Ross Wilson, the Chargé d’Affaires for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, have wrongly said that the Taliban’s offensive violates the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal agreement that was signed between the two on Feb. 29, 2020.

“It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement,” Miller stated.

“This violence, which is not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement, leads only to unacceptable loss of life and destruction,” Wilson tweeted.

However, the deal, which has been published at the U.S. State Department’s web site, makes no mention of requiring the Taliban to commit to “reduction in violence.” Nor is there clause that indicates that the Taliban must reduce its attacks on Afghan forces in the deal. In fact, the only mention of the term “reduction” is related to the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations,” the deal reads.

It is possible that there is a side deal between the U.S. and the Taliban that requires the latter to commit to a “reduction in violence,” but if this is true, the Taliban has explicitly denied this, and has claimed it is living up to its end of the bargain. There have been reports of a so-called “secret annex,” but that is supposed to only contain plans for U.S. troop withdrawals.

U.S. military officers have claimed that the Taliban has committed to a reduction in violence in the past. For instance, just five days after the signing of the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal deal , the military launched airstrikes against the Taliban in Helmand. At the time, Leggett, the USFOR-A spokesman, said that the “Taliban leadership promised the international community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments.”

The Taliban responded by saying that it only agreed to reduce their attacks as the U.S. and the Taliban finalized their deal. Once the deal was signed, it would resume offensive operations against Afghan forces, as it was permitted to do so. [See FDD‘s Long War Journal Report, U.S. military perplexed by Taliban living up to letter of agreement]

U.S. officials have intentionally mischaracterized the withdrawal deal by claiming that it indicated the Taliban would break with Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed that the Taliban would hunt down and “destroy” Al Qaeda, even though it has been its steadfast ally for three decades. Instead, the Taliban was consulting with Al Qaeda and reassuring them that the agreement would not sever the relationship even as it was negotiating with the U.S. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, U.N.: Taliban “regularly consulted” with Al Qaeda throughout negotiations with U.S. and Analysis: Taliban leader declares victory after U.S. agrees to withdrawal deal.]

Instead, the Taliban made the oft-repeated commitment that it would prevent Al Qaeda from attacking the U.S. and its allies. This is the same ‘commitment’ the Taliban made numerous times prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The Taliban has made similar promises since 9/11, yet it has harbored Al Qaeda and other terror groups that have continually plotted against the U.S. and its allies.

Meanwhile the Taliban claims that Al Qaeda or any other foreign terror group is not operating on its soil. If Al Qaeda isn’t present in Afghanistan, then it can’t be considered a legitimate counterterrorism partner, as Pompeo and others have somehow claimed. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban falsely claims al Qaeda doesn’t exist in Afghanistan.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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