US bombing raids against Taliban* targets in Afghanistan come at a time when the Islamist insurgent group has been seizing Afghan cities one after another. On Monday, Taliban fighters claimed to have captured their sixth provincial capital since last week. Around a dozen Afghan cities, including Kandahar, are now under siege.
American air strikes against Taliban targets in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have triggered security and political concerns in Islamabad on account of the possible use of Pakistani airspace by American aircraft.
US B-52 bombers and Spectre gunships over the weekend carried out bombing raids on Taliban targets in Kandahar, Herat, and Helmand provinces, as per the Afghan Defence Ministry and the Taliban.
The Times reported that the American aircraft have been using an air base in Qatar to fly these missions.
Iranian media reported back in April that the US was basing its B-52 bombers in Qatar to support the troop withdrawal process, which is set to conclude by 31 August.
As per satellite data, the American aircraft are entering Afghanistan through Pakistani airspace.
The Boulevard is an air corridor above Pakistan’s Balochistan Province that exists due to an Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) agreement between the governments of Pakistan and the United States dating back to 2004.
While Pakistan has refused to host any US military assets once the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the two nations already have Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) agreements in place since 2001.
The ALOC allows thr passage of American aircraft through the skies over Balochistan.
Supporting US military operations remains a highly touchy subject in Pakistan, mainly due to the collateral damage it suffered in joining the “War on Terror”. As per the Bureau of Investigative Journalists (BIJ), the US carried out over 400 Predator and Reaper strikes between 2004 and 2018 in Pakistan’s north-western region, notorious for hosting terror sanctuaries.
The strikes led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including 172 children. Until 2013, Pakistan had been denying altogether that it was allowing the US to carry out such operations from its bases.
“And so, when Pakistan, the Pakistani government, decided to join the US’ war on terror, this country took devastated by that; 70,000 Pakistanis died in that war, which we had nothing to do with. We had over $150 billion loss to our economy”, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview with PBS NewsHour last month.
In another interview, Khan ruled out any possibility of hosting a US base after the American troops finally leave Afghanistan.
“Absolutely not. There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from the Pakistani territory into Afghanistan”, Khan said in an interview with HBO Axios, aired in June.
Prime Minister Khan was asked if he would allow the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to carry out counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan from across-the-border in Pakistan.
CIA Director William Burns made an unannounced visit to Pakistan in May to explore the possibility of a base for US counter-insurgency operations after the conclusion of the troop withdrawal process, as per a report in The New York Times.
Khalid Rahman, director general of the Islamabad-based think tank Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), told Sputnik that the use of Pakistani airspace by US military aircraft could lead to both domestic political backlash as well as Islamabad losing its “goodwill” with the Taliban.
“We could certainly expect domestic political backlash against the government from the general public as well as political parties. Right now, more details about these US bombing raids are still emerging in public”, stated the Pakistani think tank head.
Rahman further accused the Imran Khan government of walking back its commitment of not getting involved in American military operations.
“The government hasn’t learnt anything from the experience of the last two decades. There is no military solution to the conflict. A peacefully negotiated political settlement is the only way out”, remarked Rahman.
The Taliban, which has condemned the US-led air raids in Helmand, declined to comment on this report.
Islamabad’s refusal this year to let the Americans base themselves in Pakistan was lauded by the Taliban, which describes Pakistan as a “friendly country”.
*The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.