By Samantha Beech, CNN
The US will continue airstrikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday.
Violence has surged across the country in recent months after the Taliban launched a sweeping assault just days after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in Kabul, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said, “The United States has increased airstrikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks.”
McKenzie acknowledged the Afghan government will face tough days ahead.
“The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong,” he said. “Taliban victory is not inevitable,” he said, adding that the US military will continue giving logistical support to the Afghan Air Force even after its foreign forces are expected to leave the country on August 31.
“We will continue to support the Afghan forces even after that August 31 date, it will generally be from over the horizon,” McKenzie said.
The US military carried out two strikes against Taliban targets on Thursday in support of Afghan forces in the Kandahar province, multiple defense officials said. Three of the last four strikes by the US targeted captured equipment, one defense official said. This included US equipment transferred to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces that the Taliban then captured as it advanced throughout the country.
The airstrikes come amid a heightened Taliban push to seize territory and a parallel bid to reignite diplomatic moves for a negotiated end to the war. A Taliban spokesperson on Friday condemned US airstrikes in Kandahar and Helmand provinces as “barbaric attacks” that “will have consequences.” The spokesperson said, “The Islamic Emirate condemns these barbaric attacks in the strongest terms.”
McKenzie on Sunday vowed to support the Afghan Air Force going forward, and said the US Air Force will also retain the ability to “strike into Afghanistan” against two other groups, ISIS and al Qaeda.
McKenzie said it will be clear in the next “days and weeks” if the Afghan government will be able to defend the country from the Taliban.
He added: “I don’t think it’s going to be an easy path … [but] I do not accept the narrative that there is going to be a civil war of necessity.”
On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar. AFP reports McKenzie acknowledged that the US Air Force had carried out airstrikes in the province in recent days. Kandahar, with 650,000 inhabitants, is the second-largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Gen. Kenneth McKenzie’s title. He is the head of the US Central Command.
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