- President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the Taliban were being hit “harder than they have ever been hit before” and that this is expected to continue.
- Trump recently canceled planned peace talks with the Taliban in the US in response to a bombing that killed a US service member last week. He has since declared the negotiations “dead.”
- The head of US Central Command said Monday that the US and its partner forces were expected to ramp up operations against the Taliban, and there have been signs of increased fighting in war-torn Afghanistan, where the US has been battling the Taliban for 18 years.
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Standing outside the Pentagon on Wednesday morning to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Donald Trump said that the Taliban were being hit “harder than they have ever been hit before.”
In recent days, “we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue,” the president said in a 9/11 anniversary address, driving home a point he made on Monday in a tweet that said: “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!”
US Central Command, the Resolute Support mission, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about how the US had changed its strategy in recent days, making it difficult to assess Trump’s claim that the US has never struck the Taliban harder.
In his memorial speech, Trump further warned that “if for any reason they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the United States has never used before, and I’m not even talking about nuclear power.”
“They will never have seen anything like what will happen to them,” he said. “No enemy on earth can match the overwhelming strength, skill, and might of the American armed forces.”
On Saturday, the president announced he’d scrapped plans at the last minute to invite Taliban leaders to the US for peace negotiations, citing a bombing that killed a US service member and 11 other people days earlier. He told reporters at the White House on Monday that talks were finished.
“They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” he said.
“This will lead to more losses to the US,” a Taliban spokesman responded. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.” Just after midnight Wednesday, a rocket exploded near the US Embassy in Kabul. No one was hurt.
The US had for months been engaging the Taliban in hopes of achieving a negotiated peace that would bring an end to US involvement in the 18-year war in Afghanistan – but peace, at least for the time being, appears out of reach as fighting picks up in Afghanistan. Sixteen US troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that intense fighting was ongoing in multiple provinces, noting that security officials had explained that this was, at least to a certain degree, part of the “expected intensification” following the end of peace talks with the US.
US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said on Monday that the Taliban had “overplayed their hand” in negotiations. Telling reporters that the US military would likely ramp up operations, the general said: “We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory. That’s not going to happen.”
The Trump administration had hoped to withdraw roughly 5,000 of the more than 13,000 US troops in Afghanistan; their role has largely focused on training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism raids against extremist leaders. The US footprint there has declined sharply from its height in 2010, when roughly 100,000 US troops were stationed there.
The US has been heavily bombing targets in Afghanistan this year, having released 4,483 munitions as of the end of August. That figure is the second-highest in the past seven years, according to US airpower statistics, and the year is not yet over. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the US and its partner forces killed 1,000 Taliban fighters in 10 days.