The U.S. military says it carried out a series of punishing bombings last weekend of Taliban militant camps that also support a separatist Chinese terror group.
A bombing raid Sunday on a region bordering China and Tajikistan set a record for the number of precision-guided munitions launched at one time from a B-52 bomber, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon in a video teleconference from Kabul on Wednesday. The B-52 — a Cold War workhorse — had recently been modified to carry more munitions, the military said in a statement.
The camps in remote Badakhshan Province supported Taliban operations within Afghanistan and by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement — set up by members of China's minority Uighur community — on the border region with China and Tajikistan, the military said.
"There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group," Gen. John Nicholson, the head of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement Thursday. “We continue to hunt them across the country.”
Hecker said the strikes "support Afghanistan in reassuring its neighbors that it is not a safe sanctuary for terrorists who want to carry out cross border operations."
Hecker added that the destruction of the training facilities would prevent "terrorists from planning any acts near the border with China and Tajikistan."
China blames violence in its far-western Xinjiang region, home to some 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, on Islamist extremists and separatists, some of whom it has long said have links to groups outside the country. Rights groups and Uighur exiles counter that unrest is due more to Uighur frustration at Chinese controls on their culture and religion. China denies any repression.
The Afghan government, the U.S. and other Western powers have been battling Taliban militants since they were toppled after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. More than 16 years after the U.S. helped overthrow the group, the Taliban is making gains across the country, prompting a boost in U.S. troops in the country.
President Donald Trump has greatly expanded the American air campaign in the country, and the number of bombs dropped on the Taliban tripled in 2017.
Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, estimates that the percentage of the Afghan population under government control was 60 percent as of Oct. 17, a significant decline from earlier estimates. The Afghan government controlled 70 percent in September 2016 and 65 percent in February 2017, according to previously published U.S. figures.
"We are with Afghanistan and we will stay with the Afghan people,” Nicholson said.