MOSCOW - Washington has stepped up its airstrikes and raids targeting the Taliban* leadership and militants in Afghanistan in a bid to obtain leverage in peace talks with the movement, The New York Times newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources from the US Department of Defence.

The New York Times specified that the number of US attacks on the Taliban had reached the highest level since 2014, with the surge having started in fall. The Taliban has reportedly complained about the increased number of airstrikes.

The United States dropped over 7,000 bombs, missiles, and other munitions on Afghanistan in 2018 — a dramatic increase compared to 2,365 in 2014, The New York Times said, citing military data. Since September alone, the Pentagon has reportedly carried out over 2,000 air and artillery strikes in Afghanistan.

The number of joint US-Afghan anti-Taliban raids has more than doubled from September to February, compared to the same period a year ago, according to reports.

The reports come after representative of the Taliban movement Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi stated on 6 February that the United States had pledged to withdraw half of the country’s troops, which have been fighting against the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan since 2001, by the end of April. However, on the same day, a State Department spokesperson denied this, telling Sputnik that Washington and Kabul had not agreed to any timeline for a possible reduction of US troop levels.

The Taliban governed over Afghanistan in the late 1990s. The 2001 invasion by the United States drove them out of power, but the group has remained a significant force in the country.