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US carries out airstrike on Afghan Taliban, days after signing ‘peace’ deal

The United States has conducted an airstrike against the Taliban militant group’s positions in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, just days after the two sides signed a “peace” deal.

The Taliban militants “were actively attacking an (Afghan National Security Forces) checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the US Forces in Afghanistan, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Leggett said the US was committed to peace but had the responsibility to defend its Afghan partners.

He also called on the Taliban to stop “needless attacks” and uphold their commitments, invoking the deal signed on Saturday in the Qatari capital, Doha.

At least 20 Afghan soldiers and policemen were killed in a string of overnight attacks by the Taliban militant group in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Safiullah Amiri, the deputy head of the Kunduz provincial council, said on Wednesday that Taliban militants attacked at least three army outposts in Imam Sahib District of Kunduz the night before.

The Taliban militants have ramped up violence against Afghan security in recent days. Overnight on Tuesday, they carried out over a dozen attacks on Afghan military bases in 13 of the country’s 34 provinces.

Despite the violence by the militant group, US President Donald Trump spoke with the Taliban’s political chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on Tuesday.

“We had a very good conversation with the leader of the Taliban today, and they’re looking to get this ended, and we’re looking to get it ended. I think we all have a very common interest,” Trump said. “We had, actually, a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban.”

A week-long truce between the Taliban, the US, and Afghan forces, which preceded the Saturday signing of the deal, was violated shortly after the agreement was signed.

The deal sets out a timetable for the foreign forces to quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to a pledge by the militants to hold talks with the Kabul government. The agreement calls for up to 5,000 jailed Taliban prisoners to be released in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by March 10.

The administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has since rejected that demand. Ghani said on Sunday that the issue had to be discussed as part of a comprehensive peace deal that includes the Kabul government.

The US invaded Afghanistan to overthrow a ruling Taliban regime in 2001. American forces have since remained bogged down in the country through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed in the war. Over 100,000 Afghans have also been killed or injured since 2009, when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.