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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KABUL: American warplanes dropped a record 7,423 bombs in Afghanistan last year, data released by the US Central Command has revealed.
The drastic rise in bombing raids, which rights groups say have caused “appalling” civilian casualties, came despite Washington’s continued secret talks with the Taliban to try and resolve the country’s decades-old conflict.
Explosive devices were used during 8,773 sorties, some involving drones, and were greater in number than the 4,147 bombs dropped during the peak of the war in 2009 when former US President Barack Obama had more than 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The UN and several rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns over the increase in air strikes across the country, both by US and Afghan forces, that have resulted in a rise in civilian casualties. They said far more noncombatants were killed in such raids than in Taliban attacks.
In the latest incident on Sunday, at least seven civilians, including three children, were killed in government air raids in the northern Balkh province, triggering protests by residents in the area.
“There’s far too little scrutiny by US military officials of the appalling cost of this massive increase in bombing — a cost borne increasingly by civilians who have been maimed and killed, many of them children,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News.
Security analyst and retired Afghan Gen. Attiqullah Amarkhail told Arab News that bombing raids by either side would only “cause more anger among the already frustrated population and further loss of trust of people in the government and foreign troops.”
The surge in US airstrikes came as the US and Taliban representatives were in the process of conducting sustained peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
In September last year, US President Donald Trump abruptly called off the negotiations after a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul, which killed an American soldier.
He said it happened at a point when Taliban leaders were on the verge of visiting Camp David to sign an agreement, a claim denied by the Taliban.
After making his first visit to Afghanistan in November, Trump ordered a restart of the talks which began some weeks ago. However, both the Taliban and US-led NATO forces have since stepped up their attacks, although the Taliban have drastically reduced the number of their attacks in major cities.
US officials have been pushing the Taliban to scale down the violence, but the group claimed responsibility for downing a US military aircraft on Monday in an area under its control in central Ghazni province.
After recovering the remains of two personnel from the site, following a day of delay because of Taliban ambushes and landmines installed by the militants, the US military said that “there are no indications that the crash was caused by enemy fire.”
It said an investigation was underway, adding that the wreckage of the aircraft had been destroyed.
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