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US bombers halt the Taliban with no victory in sight

US bombers halt the Taliban with no victory in sight
From Al Jazeera - February 8, 2018

A more aggressive US strategy in Afghanistan has put the Taliban on the back foot, soldiers and police say, but recent, bloody attacks in Kabul show the group remains potent and a prolonged stalemate looms.

President Donald Trump in August unveiled a more hawkish military approach, including a surge in air attacks, aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

While Afghan security forces say the effect has been significant, the Taliban are still mobile in huge swaths of the country and, with foreign troop levels at about 15,000 compared with 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright military victory.

"The American air attacks have broken their back," said Nasrullah, a soldier in Kunar province on the Pakistani border. "They do not dare attack in large numbers because they know they'd all get killed. Without air support, we'd be struggling."

The Taliban made gains after NATO withdrew most of its combat troops in late 2014. Two years later, they were threatening several district centres and even two provincial capitals, including Kunduz, in the north, which was briefly captured.

Now the fighters no longer threaten the city, said Kunduz police chief Abul Hameed Hamidi.

Air attacks had been a "game changer", he said, along with a revived campaign of "night raids" aimed at capturing fighter leaders, which previous President Hamid Karzai banned because they were so unpopular.

Soldiers and police in districts outside Kunduz that were contested a year ago said the war had tilted in their favour.

"They ca not face us and instead hide among civilians, plant roadside bombs and carry out suicide attacks," said soldier Abdul Karim.

Changed the picture

In Helmand province in the south, the Taliban have been pushed back 30 km from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gar, said governor Hayatullah Hayat, who also credited air attacks.

There were fears last year that the town could fall.

Helmand policeman Baz Gul said the air attacks had "changed the picture completely" and morale was high.

The US air attacks in Afghanistan in 2017 shot up to 4,361, according to US data, compared with 1,337 the previous year.

NATO's Resolute Support mission said on Tuesday the air campaign had been expanded in the north, with B-52 bombers striking Taliban positions.

"No end"

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