Oct 5, 2019

Mark Esper: Trump ordered stepped-up military operations in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Mark Esper (L) and President Trump (R). Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated on Friday that President Trump has ordered the U.S. military to step up attacks against militants in Afghanistan following failed peace talks with the Taliban, Politico reports.

Where it stands: A Taliban delegation recently met with U.S. diplomat and special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad for informal discussions in the Pakistani capital, the New York Times reports. Taliban members did not identify the talks as formal peace discussions, but said "that one may take place in the future."

What they're saying: “We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the [September peace] talks broke down," Esper told reporters this week, according to Task & Purpose. “The president spoke about this publicly. We did pick up the pace considerably."

  • Esper added the plans include "air and ground" attacks, Politico notes, but declined to provide further details.
  • The U.S. military headquarters that manages operations in Afghanistan has not publicly addressed new directives from Trump.

Background: The Trump administration paused peace talks last month that aimed to conclude the 18-year-old conflict with the Taliban and cut troops in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 8,600.

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Pentagon chief travels to Afghanistan to assess state of peace process

Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Mark Esper arrived in Kabul on Sunday for his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, as he looked to jump-start peace talks that President Trump declared "dead" after a Taliban bombing killed an American servicemember in early September, AP reports.

The state of play: Esper's visit comes almost a month after Afghanistan's Sept. 28 election, the results of which have still not been announced amid technical ballot difficulties and allegations of fraud. More than 1,100 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,139 wounded between July and September, marking the deadliest three-month stretch of violence for civilians in the past decade, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowOct 20, 2019

As Pentagon chief makes surprise visit to Kabul, so does Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top U.S. lawmakers met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, her office confirmed Sunday night. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was also in Kabul in an effort to restart stalled peace talks with the Taliban.

Details: President Trump had previously declared the peace talks "dead" after a Taliban bombing killed an American soldier in September. The issue of the Taliban was high on the agenda for the congressional delegation.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019

At least 69 killed in Afghanistan mosque attack as violence targets civilians

Photo: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

Local officials and area residents were still searching for bodies on Saturday following a bomb attack at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan the day prior that killed at least 69 people and left at least 36 more injured, reports Al Jazeera.

Why it matters: An uptick in violent attacks against civilians in Afghanistan has left 1,174 civilians dead between July and September, reports the Washington Post. The spike in violence emerged amid a tense election season in Afghanistan, and failed U.S.-Taliban peace talks in early September.

Go deeperArrowOct 19, 2019