Though President Donald Trump has increasingly spoken recently of engaging in peace talks with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan, the fighting isn’t over yet.
Local Afghan news source Tolo News reported that a top Taliban leader, Mullah Hamdullah, was targeted and killed in an airstrike by Afghan military forces on Saturday morning.
Taliban leader killed
The strike occurred outside the city of Tarinkot, capital of the Uruzgan province, and was confirmed by provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Azim Hashimi. He noted that 22 other Taliban militants were also killed in the airstrike.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Defense Ministry claimed that at least 10 other Taliban militants were killed in separate airstrikes in the Sayyad district of the northern Sar-e-Pul province.
Optimistic about negotiations
While the Taliban has yet to issue any comment about the Saturday morning airstrikes, it is interesting to note that Voice of America reported just days earlier that the Taliban had expressed optimism with regard to President Trump’s recent talk of peace, particularly certain comments in his State of the Union address.
On Thursday, the Taliban said in a statement, “During his SOTU speech Donald Trump called the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) as ‘the other side,’ and the use of this term by a U.S. president showcases the deep change in the U.S. political narrative from which a positive outcome can be expected in the negotiations.”
It was noted in that statement that prior Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had consistently referred to the Taliban as “terrorists,” which the Taliban viewed as disrespectful and dismissive.
The Islamist group felt that Trump’s refraining from using similar terminology in their regard signaled he was taking them and the “ground realities” seriously.
Time to “try for peace”
In his SOTU speech, during which he called for an end to “endless wars,” Trump said, “I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach — if possible — a political settlement in Afghanistan. The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor. And thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict.”
“In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban,” said Trump. “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement, but we do know that, after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It’s time.”
Increased military pressure
However, the talk of peace doesn’t mean that the fighting is on hold as of yet. A recent report from the Air Force Times noted that the number of airstrikes and bombs dropped against the Taliban in 2018 was higher than any totals in recent years.
Supply airdrops for allied Afghan government forces increased dramatically as well, part of a combined effort to increase pressure on the Taliban — an effort that is likely a big contributor to the Taliban’s newfound willingness to negotiate.