“We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down,” Esper told reporters traveling with him back to Washington from Louisville, Ky. “The president did want us to pick up in response to the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan,” including Kabul.
The remarks constitute the Pentagon’s first public confirmation of Trump’s recent pronouncements that U.S. military operations have picked up in recent weeks.
“We did pick up the pace considerably,” Esper added.
The Trump administration last month suspended negotiations with the Taliban that were designed to wind down the 18-year-old conflict after Trump tweeted he was canceling a secretly planned visit by Taliban negotiators to the presidential retreat at Camp David in rural Maryland.
The meeting was intended to finalize an agreement under negotiation since last fall in which the U.S. would cut its troops in Afghanistan from the current official total of 14,000 to 8,600 in exchange for a Taliban pledge to enter direct peace talks with the Afghan government and renounce international terrorist groups like al-Qaida.
In a Sept. 7 tweet announcing the cancellation of the visit, Trump blamed a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that had killed a U.S. soldier and 11 other people two days earlier.