Nearly two decades following 9/11 and the initial invasion of Afghanistan which ostensibly had as its objective the removal and destruction of the hardline Islamist Taliban government, the United States military is providing covert support to the same "outlawed" Taliban with the latest aim of booting ISIS from the country.
A report in The Washington Post on Thursday details that this secret assistance focuses on the Pentagon providing air power to the Taliban as the group wars against against ISIS in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar Province.
That's right, the very terrorist group that for years has waged a campaign to kill and maim large numbers of American troops in Afghanistan (not to mention many thousands of local civilians) is now being covered by US air power.
The Post's reporting is sourced to members of the elite Joint Special Operations Command counterterrorism task force based at Bagram air base, who say the strikes are helping the Taliban gain ground against ISIS, seen as the greater and more immediate US nemesis, despite as recently as earlier this year the US being engaged in major bombing operations on the Taliban.
Here are some of the shocking details as reported in The Washington Post:
Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Frye was stuck on base last summer in Afghanistan, bored and fiddling around on a military network, when he came across live video footage of a battle in the Korengal Valley, where he had first seen combat 13 years earlier. It was infamous terrain, where at least 40 U.S. troops had died over the years, including some of Frye’s friends. Watching the Reaper drone footage closely, he saw that no American forces were involved in the fighting, and none from the Afghan government. Instead, the Taliban and the Islamic State were duking it out...
Through JSCOC sources the Post was able to learn this is part of an active policy to provide air support via drone strikes in places where Taliban commanders are battling ISIS for territory:
What Frye didn’t know was that U.S. Special Operations forces were preparing to intervene in the fighting in Konar province in eastern Afghanistan — not by attacking both sides, but by using strikes from drones and other aircraft to help the Taliban. “What we’re doing with the strikes against ISIS is helping the Taliban move,” a member of the elite Joint Special Operations Command counterterrorism task force based at Bagram air base explained to me earlier this year, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the assistance was secret. The air power would give them an advantage by keeping the enemy pinned down.
The report notes that while there's no direct communication between the JSOC team overseeing the mission, which is shockingly enough dubbed in the report “Taliban Air Force” based on JSOC's own internal joking nickname, they listen in on Taliban communications in order to track the anti-ISIS frontline fighting.
Good snapshot of how insane US foreign policy is.— Paul Gottinger (@PaulGottinger) October 22, 2020
US military—who spent 2 decades fighting the Taliban—are now acting as their Air Force. https://t.co/s21LLGcT8J
"Our secret Taliban air force. Inside the clandestine U.S. campaign to help our longtime enemy defeat ISIS," the WaPo story emphasizes in its lead-in.
The report underscores: "Taliban units on the ground appeared willing to take the help, waiting to assault Islamic State positions until they heard and saw the explosions of bombs and Hellfires."
Recall too that last March US Central Command chief Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the Taliban had been receiving "limited" Pentagon support against ISIS given the group had proven "very effective" at missions to "compress and crush[ing]" the ISIS stronghold in the country's Nangarhar province.
The US has been engaged in long-running peace talks with the Taliban based in Doha with the ultimate aim of leaving Afghanistan stable enough for a full American exit from the longest war in US history. However, few realized just how 'cooperative' this relationship is becoming on the ground.