(Source : Militarytimes.com – Shawn Snow) – US troops and A-10s return to Marjah fight
The Afghan government said Saturday its forces cleared the opium rich and volatile district of Marjah, Afghanistan, after four years of control by the Taliban, but some remain skeptical of the claim and question whether Afghan forces can truly hold the territory.
The large-scale operation launched by Afghan forces around mid-November included U.S. special operations forces, ISR and air support by the conflict’s most iconic war bird the A-10 Thunderbolt II, according to two sources on the ground who spoke to Military Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
The Warthogs, assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, are with the 451st Air Expeditionary Group out of Bagram Airfield.
Military officials with Resolute Support would not confirm particular U.S. air assets that supported the operation or whether Marines with a small advisory group in Helmand province, Afghanistan, known as Task Force Southwest, participated in clearing the Taliban stronghold.
“Resolute Support continues to operate in support of Afghan partners conducting operations against the Taliban, Daesh and others. This includes operations in Marjah, Helmand. Our operations and our support to Afghan security forces enable the conditions for political settlement and will ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Resolute Support officials told Military Times in an emailed statement.
A U.S. source on the ground with direct knowledge of the operation told Military Times that American commandos and Afghan partner forces backed by U.S. air support had pushed into Marjah district.
The Afghan government touted the success of the operation in a press release Saturday boasting that Afghan forces cleared the district and killed 37 Taliban fighters including a Taliban commander known as Mullah Abdul Bari. The Afghan Ministry of Defense also detailed that Afghan forces defused more than 100 IEDs and destroyed six enemy command centers.
The U.S. is seeking to withdraw from Afghanistan through negotiations with the Taliban. President Donald Trump halted peace talks with the militant group in September. During a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Bagram air base, he told U.S. troops that negotiations with the Taliban were back on.
According to a Reuter’s story, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that a U.S. draw down of forces in Afghanistan was “not necessarily” linked to a peace deal with the Taliban.
There are currently about 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
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Photo © A-10 Thunderbolt II’s from the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in Afghanistan, USAF, Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz, as published in ibid