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WASHINGTON: US Air strikes in Afghanistan are reaching historically high numbers as the US dropped more munitions in Afghanistan this year than it has since the height of the war, says a report published on Thursday.

A US military newspaper The Military Times reported that the United States had halted the air strikes in June for the three-day Eid ceasefire but resumed pounding Taliban positions across Afghanistan right after this temporary halt.

The report – based on statistics released by US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) – noted that the air strikes aimed at “convincing the insurgent force that negotiating with the Afghan government was their only option.”

The statistics show that in July, strike metrics saw highs across the board as the result of a surge in operations post-ceasefire.

An AFCENT reports that the US flew 749 strike sorties between January and July 2018, 88 of which included a weapons release. Both are monthly highs this year. Also, the US employed 746 weapons in July, the highest monthly total since November 2010.”

The total number of weapons released this year, which includes both manned and unmanned platforms, tops out at 3,714. That number is higher than every year’s total going back to 2013, with the exception of 2017.

Last year, the US air strikes released 4,361 weapons while this year between 300 to 700 weapons are dropped every month. This means that 2018 is likely to top 2017 as well.

The US conducted 4,398 aircraft sorties this year alone — 500 of which included at least one weapons release.

“The US is committed to supporting the Afghan peace process, the Afghan government and our [Afghan security force] partners fighting from the air and the ground against the Taliban and other nefarious actors who seek to destabilise Afghanistan,” Lt Gen Jeffrey Harrigian, combined forces air component commander for US Central Command told The Military Times.

“However, the fact remains that unless and until the Taliban reconcile, we will strike the enemy to deny them important resources and capabilities.”

Gen Harrigian said that during this period the US has also continued to increase the capability and strikes of the Afghan air force and the combined strength of the US and Afghan forces had further strengthened the position of the Afghan government.

“In support of Afghans and the Afghan government, the US and our international partners will continue using military pressure to drive the Taliban to reconcile,” he added. The AFCENT report includes a compilation of aircraft from all US military branches of service, as well as Nato coalition aircraft, but Afghan air force platforms are not included.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2018