First airstrike since peace deal
The US conducted its first airstrike against Taliban forces on 4 March 2020 in Afghanistan since signing an ambitious peace deal with the militant group. The US said the attack was to counter a Taliban assault on Afghan government forces in Nahr-e Saraj in the southern Helmand province. The US called on the Taliban to stop the attacks and uphold their commitments based on the peace agreement, which lays out a conditions-based path to the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.
- The strike came hours after US President Donald Trump spoke to deputy Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and discussed progress towards achieving peace in Afghanistan.
- On 29 February 2020 the US and the Taliban signed an "agreement for bringing peace" to Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict.
- The US and its Nato allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants upheld the deal.
- But violence surged in Afghanistan just days after the agreement was signed, with the Taliban ending a partial truce and resuming fighting with Afghan government troops. Central to the obstacles facing the deal is the disagreement over prisoner swaps.
- Under the accord, some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners are meant to be exchanged by 10 March, when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.
- But Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani said that his government had agreed to no such release. The militants said talks would not take place if their prisoners were not released first.
- Although the US-Taliban deal provides for the prisoner swap, a separate US-Afghan declaration commits the government in Kabul only to participating in talks on the "feasibility" of such a release.
- Following reports of numerous Taliban attacks, Mr Trump shared a phone call with a leader of the group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, about keeping peace efforts on track.
- The US president said it was a "very good talk", while the Taliban said Mr Trump had pledged to ask his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to talk with Mr Ghani to make sure negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban went ahead as planned.
- The Taliban have previously refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, so the deal was just with the US.
- The US attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 to oust the Taliban, whom they said were harbouring Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban were removed from power but became an insurgent force that by 2018 was active in more than two-thirds of the country.