Desperate to slow the rate at which Afghanistan is losing territory to the Taliban, the US has been greatly escalating their airstrikes in the country. Pilots already facing a heavy workload say they’re expecting even more escalations following President Trump’s announced escalation.
That’s going to take some doing. After 1,074 US airstrikes in Afghanistan through all of 2016, the US has already conducted 2,244 strikes, more than double, so far this year. Pilots say they’re expecting a return to the frenzied pace of before 2014, when the “combat” operations were declared over.
Pilots say that while a lot of the recent airstrikes have targeted Afghanistan’s smaller ISIS affiliate, an increase in strikes against the Taliban would be difficult, noting they are “much harder to kill.” This likely speaks to the Taliban having been the target of 16 years worth of air war.
Officials also say that the Taliban is better embedded into their local communities, which means they struggle to get intelligence on where to target. That’s less true with ISIS, which is a relatively new group viewed as outsiders in some parts of the country.