Months after President Obama declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, reports came to light this week showing the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces as well as sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way. The forces are in the country under the guise of “training and advising” but it appears they are actively waging war instead.
To justify the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have claimed that the troops’ role is relegated to counter-terrorism, which they define as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who now carry out the bulk of the fight.
In public, U.S. officials have emphasized that the Taliban are not being specifically targeted and are only engaged if it is for “force protection” — situations where insurgents are immediately threatening American forces.
But interviews with American and Western officials in Kabul and Washington paint a different picture, one of which a more aggressive range of military operations against the Taliban are occurring. In recent months the insurgents have continued to gain ground against struggling government forces.
Instead of ending the American war in Afghanistan, it seems the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mainly drone missions — and Special Operations raids. The activities have stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House in recent months.
Military officials said that American forces conducted 52 airstrikes in March, which is months after the official end of the combat mission was declared. Many of these air attacks, which number 128 in the first three months of this year, targeted low to midlevel Taliban commanders in the most remote areas of mountainous country.
As early as January, when officials in Washington were proudly proclaiming the end of the combat mission, about 40 American Special Operations troops were deployed to Kunar Province to advise Afghan forces.
With troops on the ground, the commanders called in airstrikes under the authority of force protection, according to two military officials.
“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”
The revelations beg the question: What are America’s military forces really doing there and does this contradict what we have been told by our elected officials?
They reports raise fresh concerns that the American public is being told one thing while another is happening on the ground, far away from the eye of everyday Americans.