A U.S. rocket attack killed at least 50 Taliban commanders gathered for a meeting in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, Pentagon officials revealed Wednesday.
The May 24 strike destroyed a command-and-control position in Musa Qala in Helmand, where senior Taliban leaders from several provinces were gathered to “plan next steps” of their annual spring offensive, according to Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Taliban dismissed the Pentagon’s report as “propaganda” and said the attack had blown up two civilian houses, killing five civilians and wounding three.
But later Wednesday, the Pentagon released aerial footage of the strike, which was launched from an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) — a truck-based mobile rocket launcher used extensively in the Afghanistan War.
The HIMARS strike was a “notable” attack that will disrupt Taliban operations but is unlikely to interrupt the insurgents’ spring offensive to a significant degree, O’Donnell said. It comes as NATO-backed Afghan security forces are struggling to contain a stubborn Taliban insurgency showing little sign of weakening, despite an increase in U.S. troops and expanded airstrikes across Afghanistan.
In public statements, U.S. military commanders have put a positive sheen on the war effort, saying President Donald Trump’s administration’s new Afghanistan strategy is beginning to pay dividends. But a Pentagon watchdog recently highlighted deficiencies in Afghanistan’s progress toward beating back the Taliban insurgency.
Just 65 percent of the country’s population currently lives under government control, even after direct U.S. spending on Afghan security forces of $78 billion, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report. (RELATED: Afghanistan Security Forces Shrinking As Insurgents Mount Devastating Urban Attacks)
The Taliban insurgency is not potent enough to capture and hold major urban areas, but it can attack Afghan government forces at will then melt into the surrounding countryside. In a surprise attack on May 15, Taliban fighters nearly overran the western city of Farah before being driven off by a combination of Afghan security forces and U.S. commandos backed by air support. (RELATED: The Taliban Almost Took Over An Afghan City, Proving That It’s Far From ‘Losing Ground’)
Insurgents have also been able to carry out devastating suicide bombings in Kabul and other major cities, prompting concerns the U.S.-backed Afghan government is not capable of defending areas it already controls.
On Wednesday, Taliban fighters in the Dasht-e Qala district in the the northern province of Takhar captured the governor’s compound and police headquarters, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Elsewhere, the Taliban claimed an attack on a police station in Pul-e Alam, the capital of Loghar province, which killed three police officers and wounded 12 other people — including some civilians.
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