Paul Wood: US stepping up airstrikes this week to support Afghan forces

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The U.S. military this week has launched additional airstrikes in support of Afghan government forces in their fight against the Taliban, using both conventional warplanes and armed drones, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The strikes, following several conducted last week, indicate stepped up U.S. support after weeks of battlefield gains by the Taliban as U.S. troops complete their withdrawal. The aircraft are being flown from bases outside of Afghanistan because the U.S. military has pulled all of its combat planes out of the country.
"A number of strikes have occurred over the last several days from both manned and unmanned strike platforms," Maj. Robert Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, said. He did not provide further details.
Other officials had said last week's airstrikes targeted Taliban positions in combat as well as military equipment that had been captured by the Taliban.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, who is overseeing the U.S. military withdrawal and making decisions on air support for Afghan troops, said on Sunday that airstrikes had been increasing.
"We're prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," McKenzie said.
McKenzie also said the U.S. was providing "contract logistics support both here in Kabul and over-the-horizon in the region, funding for them, intelligence sharing, and advising and assisting through security consultations at the strategic level."
Central Command says the U.S. troop withdrawal is more than 95% complete. It is to be finished by Aug. 31. Whether the U.S. will continue to provide airstrikes in support of Afghan government forces after that date is yet to be determined.
-by ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer

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