The US conducted more airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2018 than any other time in the last decade

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ISIS-K fighting positions targeted by airstrikes in Momand Valley, Achin District, Nangahar Province, Afghanistan, October 19, 2017. (U.S. Army photo)

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The U.S. military conducted more airstrikes in Afghanistan last year than in the three previous years combined, making 2018 the most kinetic year for airstrikes in the country in at least a decade.


U.S. fighters, bombers, attack aircraft and drones released 7,362 weapons in 2018, according to the latest U.S. Air Forces Central Command airpower statistics summary published last week.

The second-highest year on record was in 2011, when U.S. assets dropped 5,411 weapons, according to available figures dating back to 2009.

"Throughout the last year, the air component has supported multiple ongoing campaigns, deterred aggression, maintained security, and defended our networks," said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, Combined Forces Air Component Commander, in a news release.

"We've orchestrated coalition airpower to destroy the [Islamic State] caliphate, support Iraq, and enabled significant progress in Afghanistan," Guastella said.

The months of September and November saw the most strikes against terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, in Afghanistan, with 841 weapons released each of those months.

Aircraft operating under the Combined Forces Air Component Command flew 8,196 sorties in 2018, nearly double the amount of sorties than in 2017, the data shows.

President Donald Trump in 2017 announced the U.S. would begin sending more troops to Afghanistan -- where the U.S. has been fighting its longest war in history -- to step up the fight against ISIS-K, the Taliban and the Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The Trump administration boosted force strength in the region by 3,500 troops in 2017 and 2018 in an effort to to boost the advise-and-assist mission with the Afghan military, according to the Associated Press.

While the Trump plan for Afghanistan at the time had not been fully articulated, the president made clear his preference to give more leeway to generals, allowing them to take an aggressive approach toward stamping out extremist threats.

At the time, Army Gen. John Nicholson, then-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support mission, had already been increasing airpower in the region.

Nicholson approved the highly publicized drop of the 21,600-pound GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) -- nicknamed "mother of all bombs" -- against IS-K in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province in April 2017.

It was the first time the MOAB, the highest-yielding non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, had been used in combat.

Even as airstrikes hit a decade-long high, the Trump administration has in recent months signaled a renewed interest in negotiations with the Taliban.

Following Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's departure in December, the president has turned to additional peace negotiations with the Taliban to potentially end the 17-year-long war.

"In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban," Trump said last week during his annual State of the Union address. "As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism. We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement -- but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace."

On Monday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made an unannounced visit to the country to meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders.

Shanahan separately met with President Ashraf Ghani to "discuss a broad range of defense issues," the Defense Department said in a statement.

"While there he is also meeting with coalition troops in support of Afghan forces as they lead the fight to defend their country," officials said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com

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