U.S. strikes Taliban forces in first hit since peace deal

The U.S. conducted its first airstrike against Taliban forces in Afghanistan since signing an ambitious peace deal with the militant group.

Hit described as a 'defensive strike' to counter Taliban assault on Afghan government forces

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper, left, is seen Monday during a briefing with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley at the Pentagon in Washington. The U.S. military said Wednesday that it has conducted an airstrike against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

The U.S. conducted its first airstrike against Taliban forces in Afghanistan since signing an ambitious peace deal with the militant group.

U.S. military spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett said in a tweet that Wednesday's "defensive" strike was the first U.S. attack against the militants in 11 days. He said the attack was to counter a Taliban assault on Afghan government forces in Nahr-e Saraj in the southern Helmand province.

Leggett added that Taliban forces had conducted 43 attacks on Afghan troops on Tuesday in Helmand. According to a spokesperson for the province's governor, Omer Zwak, at least two police officers were killed and one other wounded in the Washir district of southern Helmand.

Leggett called on the Taliban to stop the attacks and uphold their commitments based on the peace agreement signed on Feb. 29 between their leaders and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar, which lays out a conditions-based path to the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday that he spoke on the phone to a Taliban leader, making him the first U.S. president believed to have ever spoken directly with the militant group responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. troops in nearly 19 years of fighting in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Interior Ministry says that four civilians and 11 troops were killed Wednesday in a wave of Taliban attacks across the country in the past 24 hours.

According to ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi, Afghan forces killed at least 17 Taliban during these clashes.

The Afghan Defence Ministry earlier said that seven soldiers were killed when Taliban attacked a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province.

Kandahar police spokesperson Jamal Naser Barekzai told The Associated Press that a police officer was killed and one wounded in a string of Taliban attacks across the province.

The Taliban have not claimed responsibility for any of these attacks so far or commented on the U.S. airstrike Wednesday.

However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the AP Wednesday that a week of reduction in violence that started midnight on Feb. 21 had ended.

Based on the U.S.-Taliban deal, peace negotiations between the warring Afghan sides are supposed to begin on March 10. However, the Afghan government has already rejected releasing Taliban prisoners ahead of launching the talks, a precondition that the militants say was part of the U.S. agreement.

Leggett said that U.S. forces are responsible for defending their Afghan allies according to agreements between the U.S. and Afghan governments.