Almost 40 strikes hit Afghanistan every day in September, new Pentagon figures show, working out as more than 1,100 over the month, a significant rise.
The number of US strikes has been increasing in recent months, but this latest jump is dramatic. There were 1,113 strikes in September compared with 810 strikes in August, and 537 in July.
It follows the collapse of US and Taliban peace negotiations in early September. The talks were suspended by President Donald Trump after the killing of a US soldier in Kabul.
Since then, President Trump has repeatedly stated he is hitting the Taliban harder. Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, told reporters earlier this month that they had “picked up the pace [of operations in Afghanistan] considerably” since the breakdown of the negotiations.
“We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down,” Esper told reporters. “The president did want us to pick up in response to the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan.”
For civilians on the ground, the deepening conflict comes at great cost. Recent UN figures show there were over 650 civilian casualties from US strikes in the first nine months of 2019, nearly double the number injured or killed in the same period last year.
The UN has said civilian casualties in general – not just from air strikes – have reached “unprecedented” levels in the past three months as violence across the country has increased.
“The harm caused to civilians by the fighting in Afghanistan signals the importance of peace talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement to the conflict; there is no other way forward,” Yadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, said.
Header photo: Defence Secretary Mark T. Esper meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to Afghanistan, 20 October 2019. (DoD photo by US Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)