- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2021

The Afghan air force on Monday pounded the Taliban with repeated airstrikes in an effort to keep insurgent fighters from capturing key cities in southern and western Afghanistan, officials said, as the battle for the country’s future moves from the rural countryside toward major population centers.

U.S. air power in recent days also has hit Taliban positions on the outskirts of Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, according to Afghan leaders. Each of those cities is under threat of attack by Taliban forces that have amassed nearby.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to lawmakers Monday and said the security situation will improve as the U.S.-backed government in Kabul seeks a political arrangement with the rival Taliban.

But he also vowed to keep up the fight against the insurgents.

“Our people yearn for peace and while we will pursue a negotiated path, we also stand forcefully against the Taliban’s aggression,” the Afghan leader tweeted.

Afghan security forces over the past three days unleashed one of their largest sustained aerial assaults on Taliban targets, underscoring the threat that the group now poses to strategically vital cities across the country.

The most recent bombing came Monday morning when at least eight Taliban fighters were killed in airstrikes outside Lashkar Gah, Afghan officials said.

Meanwhile, U.S. air power has aided in the fight, conducting numerous airstrikes over the weekend in order to fend off Taliban advances, Afghan officials said.

The Pentagon recently confirmed that American fighter jets are once again targeting Taliban forces, though defense officials have mostly been tight-lipped about the details of those strikes.

The Taliban‘s urban offensive and subsequent air campaign come as the U.S. completes its military withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war.

President Biden has ordered that the exit be finished by Aug. 31. Pentagon officials say the withdrawal is more than 95% complete.

The Taliban has steadily gained territory since Mr. Biden first announced the withdrawal in April. But Afghan security forces and U.S. air support so far have kept the insurgent group from capturing any provincial capitals or major cities.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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