The U.S. has stepped up airstrikes in southern Afghanistan amid growing apprehension over a Taliban offensive threatening Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and spiritual capital of the Taliban movement.
The Taliban have advanced dozens of miles toward Kandahar city in recent weeks, squeezing it from three directions, capturing swaths of territory in the Panjwai and Arghandab valleys, places where foreign troops fought for decades to keep the Taliban at bay.
Residents said the Taliban push from the south threatens to cut off the main road between the city and Kandahar Air Field, a one-time bastion of U.S. air power during the 20-year war.
Gen. McKenzie told reporters after the meeting that the U.S. had increased the number of airstrikes against the Taliban in the past few days, and was prepared to continue if the Taliban offensive continues.
White House officials have said they would retain the right to strike al Qaeda or other groups only if they pose a threat to the U.S. But with a Taliban offensive throughout the country, U.S. officials said they expect to hit more targets in Afghanistan after the end of the nearly weeklong Muslim holiday of Eid.
The Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan got a boost earlier this month with their seizure of the Spin Boldak, a bustling trade city on the border with Pakistan.
Haji Hakimullah, a resident of Kandahar who served in the police there, said that elite units have in the past few days managed to clear parts of the city of Taliban fighters.