On Monday, October 12th, the United States launched airstrikes in the Helmand province of Afghanistan against Taliban fighters, reports Reuters. The strikes are especially shocking, as the United States had previously signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw troops this past February. Under this deal, both the United States and the Taliban were to withdraw troops from Afghanistan with the understanding that security would be guaranteed and that attempts for long-lasting peace would also be made.
On Twitter, U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Sonny Leggett, insisted that the strikes were “consistent with the United States-Taliban agreement.” Leggett also went on to say that the Taliban’s offensive in Helmand was “…not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks.” The aforementioned offensive has resulted in the taking over of major military bases in the province, as well as other key areas. In contrast, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed that the areas taken over had not been gained by way of the offensive, but instead were claimed many months ago. On Twitter, he said that “No new changes have occurred.” General Khalil-ur-Rahman Jawad, Helmand’s police chief, reportedly explained that “Tactical measures have been taken to prevent casualties, but security will soon be restored to restore order.”
The fighting in the area has taken a huge human toll, and will likely continue to do so as long as the fighting continues. Nearly 1,500 families have fled their homes near the capital of the province, hoping to find a safer area until the fighting is over. The longer that individuals are forced to endure this violence, the smaller their chances of long-term survival becomes. In a world where both national and transnational mobility is already so limited, it is difficult to estimate how much longer these families will be able to successfully flee the disastrous effects of these strikes.
The Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group has held some sort of power over areas in Afghanistan for years. Many Afghans remember the Taliban’s wide enforcement of a strict interpretation of Sharia Law from 1996-2001, and many countries and organizations from all over the globe condemn the group for the harm it has brought. The group’s rule resulted in massacres, starvation, harmful discrimination, and high levels of mistreatment of women. In February, the United States formed a deal with the Taliban aimed at talks towards peace. However, conflict over prisoners, repeated violence, and political infighting in Kabul has delayed these talks from actually happening.
At this point in time, it is unclear what will come from these strikes. Until the widespread violence ends, individuals will continue to be harmed in ways that will affect them for the remainder of their lives. Will these airstrikes result in the Taliban’s refusal to undergo peace talks? While this remains to be seen, it is imperative that any conversation around peace identifies Afghans as the central priority. As many continue to be deeply affected by the ever-lengthening list of tragedies, we may only hope that peace talks begin so that violence may end.
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