LONDON: The US has deployed heavy air gunships over Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban as the terror group continues to make territorial gains in the war-torn country.
Washington has sent B-52 gunships into Afghan airspace for the first time in over a year. Nicknamed the “stratofortress,” the B-52 — which has been flown by the US Air Force since the 1950s — is one of its key assets, capable of massive destruction.
The Taliban on Friday claimed the first provincial capital since the withdrawal of Western forces after capturing Zaranj in the southwestern Nimroz province.
The Afghan air force has struggled in the absence of Western support. Lacking munitions, supplies and pilots, it is reported to be “exhausted” by regular missions.
More than one-third of the Afghan government’s fleet of 162 aircraft and helicopters have been left inoperable since US contractors left the country.
US defense sources told The Times that the B-52 aircraft were flying into Afghanistan from Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, and that they were striking Taliban positions around Kandahar, Herat and Lashkar Gah — three cities at risk from Taliban capture.
The sources said armed drones and AC-130 Spectre gunships — the iconic low-flying attack aircraft replete with a howitzer-style heavy cannon — are flying at least five missions daily.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea is launching fast jets to support the missions.
The defense sources said Washington has every intention to continue with the airstrikes after Aug. 31, when the last remaining coalition troops are expected to leave Afghanistan.