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Taliban Violated Afghan Deal With Shelling of American Bases, U.S. Officials Say

EntertainmentTaliban Violated Afghan Deal With Shelling of American Bases, U.S. Officials Say

KABUL, Afghanistan — Rockets launched at a U.S. military base and a joint U.S.-Afghan airfield in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks are believed to have been fired by the Taliban, according to three American military officials, in what would amount to a clear breach of the peace agreement between the United States and the insurgent group.

Roughly a dozen rockets struck in late July around Camp Bastion, a sprawling air base used by Afghan and American forces in the southern province of Helmand. And several rockets were fired within the last week or so at Camp Dwyer, a large U.S. military base about 50 miles south of Bastion.

A Taliban commander familiar with the region denied that the group had carried out any strikes on American bases in Helmand and said that the group would investigate. The rocket strikes may also have been carried out by a Taliban faction that is against the agreement, according to one military official who was briefed on the matter.

There were no U.S. casualties in either attack, nor a public response from Washington during a stretch in which American officials have struggled to keep an already shaky peace process on track.

The American-led mission in Afghanistan also declined to comment.

Helmand Province, long considered the Taliban’s heartland and its opium-fueled financial breadbasket, is predominantly controlled by the insurgent group, though well-armed drug barons and differing tribal affiliations ensure that many allegiances and agendas in the region are murky. Afghan government forces there are mostly constrained to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and some villages that serve as district centers.

The February peace deal signed in Doha, the capital of Qatar, stipulates that the Taliban would refrain from striking American or NATO forces as they gradually withdrew from the country. And the U.S. military would attack the Taliban only to defend Afghan forces.

The Taliban, long thought to be a conglomerate of various factions with differing agendas, seem to have largely stayed true to the agreement as a unified front, at least publicly, when it comes to not attacking American or coalition forces. But as the Taliban have continued to mount heavy assaults against the Afghan military forces, the United States has carried out dozens of airstrikes to help the Afghans, officials say.

Another sticking point is the Taliban’s reluctance to condemn Al Qaeda, the terrorist group that carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and was harbored by the Taliban. A clearly defined tenet of the Feb. 29 peace agreement calls for the Taliban to sever all ties with Al Qaeda before the total withdrawal of U.S. troops. Pentagon officials believe Qaeda fighters continue to be well ingrained with Taliban rank and file.

Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, said last week that there was a “debate” on Taliban ties to Al Qaeda.

“There are very strict commitments there and they must be upheld,” General Miller told 1TV, an Afghan news outlet.

Violations of the Feb. 29 deal are often raised privately by Taliban and U.S. officials through a communication channel established after the agreement’s signing. Publicly, the Taliban have denounced the United States for carrying out airstrikes on their fighters, claiming the Americans were violating the deal.

“This is one part of a bigger picture,” said Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst on Afghanistan for Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict resolution organization.

“The military’s general silence or lack of comment of what seems to be an ongoing dynamic in the conflict feels like a reflection of a larger trend of the Americans willing to overlook ambiguities in how the February agreement is being upheld in the interest of not jeopardizing an agreement that already feels very fragile.”

In the recent attacks, the Taliban fired rockets from several miles away that were mostly inaccurate, said one military official familiar with the events. After rockets struck Camp Dwyer, American aircraft retaliated by striking the launch site, destroying a cluster of munitions that had yet to be fired, the official said.

Camp Dwyer, a British base that was turned over to the Americans at the height of the war, is quietly becoming the strategic hub for American troops remaining in southern Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and the Taliban are stalled on the cusp of direct negotiations in Qatar as a dispute continues about a prisoner exchange on both sides.

Under the deal between the United States and the Taliban, which initiated the phased withdrawal of American troops, direct peace negotiations between the Afghan sides were conditioned on swapping 5,000 Taliban prisoners with 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the insurgents.

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