Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan Tests U.S. - WSJ

Surge by militants adds fuel to arguments that Obama administration should rethink troop withdrawal

WASHINGTON—Afghan troops backed by U.S. forces struggled to recapture a provincial capital following an alarming Taliban attack that renewed questions about the Obama administration’s plan to withdraw most American military forces next year.

A U.S. airstrike was conducted early Tuesday by a U.S. F-16 as a “force protection measure,” a U.S. official said, after Taliban fighters stole a tank from Afghan forces and drove it toward the airport, where Afghan and coalition troops, including Americans, were located.  Another was conducted near the airport at night, said U.S. Army Col.Brian Tribus, a spokesman for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. U.S. officials also are providing coverage by aerial surveillance drones, officials said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who marked one year in office Tuesday, said that government forces were making progress taking back the city. “We shall not allow the citizens to be terrorized,” he said in Kabul. But by nightfall Afghan forces had mostly given up their gains and retreated to two locations—the airport and a strategic hill on the other side of the city, according to Afghan officials, residents and the Taliban.

The Taliban surge, its first such victory since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, reinvigorated arguments by some senior U.S. military officials, lawmakers and others that the administration should rethink the size of the coalition force that will be left in Afghanistan.

The seizure of Kunduz underscored the weakness of Afghan forces, who took over responsibility for security this year as the U.S. military began withdrawing.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said he and others have been aware of the “deteriorating situation” in Afghanistan for some time.  “But what is surprising is the location of this attack, in the north, which is generally not the area of most of the Taliban activity,” Mr. McCain said in an interview. “So it is an indicator of the dimensions of the Taliban’s capability to launch a very significant and successful attack.”

He and other critics compared the situation to the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, which they say contributed to the rise of Islamic State extremists in Iraq and neighboring Syria. - 

“The fall of Kunduz to the Taliban is not unlike the fall of Iraqi provinces” to Islamic State, said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “It is a reaffirmation that precipitous withdrawal leaves key allies and territory vulnerable to the very terrorists we’ve fought so long to defeat.” - Read More at WSJ


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