April 23, 2018
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan dropped more bombs during the first quarter of 2018 than it has in the same period in any of the last 15 years, according to Pentagon data.
The increased bombing is the latest evidence the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan is significantly intensifying since U.S. President Donald Trump announced his new military strategy for the country in August.
Coalition planes dropped 1,186 weapons on Afghanistan during the first three months of 2018, according to figures released by U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The previous record (1,083) was set during the height of the war in 2011. The U.S. has not released 2001 to 2003 airstrike data.
Those figures do not include activity by the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which has stepped up its aerial bombardment since gaining the ability to conduct airstrikes two years ago. The AAF carries out between 4 to 12 airstrikes every day, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
If recent trends are any indication, 2018 is likely to get even more violent. Fighting traditionally picks up during the warmer months, and the coalition has expanded its bombing campaign against the Islamic State group, as well as narcotic labs and other Taliban revenue sources.
But there is little indication the expanded airstrikes are helping end the conflict, says Thomas Johnson, an Afghanistan specialist who teaches national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
“It’s basically a tactic of desperation,” said Johnson, author of Taliban Narratives: The Use of Power and Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict. “There’s never been an insurgency in history that’s been defeated purely through air power.”
Even high-level U.S. military officials concede the conflict remains a stalemate. According to the latest U.S. military estimate, the Afghan government controls 56 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, with insurgents controlling or contesting the rest.
Insurgent attacks also have continued. Nearly 60 people died Sunday when an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked an election identification card distribution center in Kabul. The Taliban has also rejected October’s scheduled parliamentary elections as “fake,” and stage-managed by “foreign occupation” forces.
Civilians are increasingly dying in the conflict.
For the second consecutive year, civilian casualties remained at a record high in the first quarter of 2018, according to the United Nations. From January through March, 763 civilians were killed and 1,495 injured.
While the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties were caused by insurgents, airstrikes resulted in 67 deaths and 75 injuries during the first three months of the year, according to the U.N.
Afghans have become outraged at high-profile incidents, such as in early April, when an Afghan airstrike on a suspected Taliban gathering at a religious school in northern Kunduz killed dozens.
Kabul said 30 Taliban fighters were killed in the strike. But media reports quoted witnesses and local officials as saying the majority of the casualties were civilians.
The violence comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani calls on the Taliban to join the political arena and participate in the upcoming election.
In February, Ghani proposed peace talks with the Taliban without preconditions. The Taliban has not given a formal response to Ghani’s offer.
Nonetheless, Ghani’s offer was praised by analysts such as Johnson, who say there is no military solution to the war.
“I don’t care if you double the amount of air sorties you’re flying right now,” he said. “We will never win this war militarily. The only solution to this war is political.”
VOA’s Hasib Danish Alikozai contributed to this report.