By Debbie Gregory.
The Taliban’s growing military might is posing a strategic “rock and a hard place” question for President Barack Obama: should the United States resume airstrikes against the Taliban?
Gen. John F. Campbell, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan until last month, proposed resuming offensive strikes against the Taliban. The U.S. withdrew most of its troops in 2014, dramatically reducing the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets throughout Afghanistan. And after spending tens of billions of dollars training Afghan security personnel, the Taliban continues to advance.
Afghan forces are struggling to hold back resurgent Taliban forces, which have reclaimed some areas won during the U.S. troop surge, albeit at a great cost. Many Taliban fighters think “they are operating from a position of strength,” according to Campbell.
That leaves the White House with the choice of either limiting the numbers of strikes (and risk the militants continuing to gain ground) or allowing American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets, restoring the U.S.’s combat role in Afghanistan.
The formal end of NATO’s combat mission in January 2015 meant that the U.S. was rarely directly targeting the militants from the air. Although U.S. commanders can call in airstrikes, there are only supposed to do so under certain circumstances: to protect NATO troops, target al Qaeda militants, or come to the aid of Afghan forces in danger of being overrun by the Taliban or suffering a clear defeat on the ground.
Senior Pentagon officials are pushing to revise the rules of engagement so they can be free to fire on Taliban forces massing to seize territory and directly target their leadership.
The Pentagon said no decision has been made to broaden the air campaign in Afghanistan. So what is the best use of America’s air power in Afghanistan?
In 2001, U.S. air raids were instrumental in taking down the Taliban regime, but also killed and injured civilians. While Gen. Stanley McChrystal scaled back the bombing to avoid alienating the Afghan population, his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, ramped up the air raids.
And while the Afghans are slowly building their own air force, it won’t be battle ready until 2020. So, what do you think? Should the U.S. resume the airstrikes against the Taliban?