The U.S. military conducted record-setting airstrikes in Afghanistan last year, surpassing the previous year's total and making 2019 the most kinetic year for airstrikes against extremist targets in the country in at least a decade.
According to statistics recently published by Air Forces Central Command, fighter, attack and unmanned aircraft dropped 7,423 bombs last year. By comparison, aircraft released 7,362 weapons in 2018.
The next-highest airstrike year on record was 2011, when U.S. assets dropped 5,411 weapons, according to available figures dating back to 2009. In 2010, U.S. aircraft dropped 5,101 munitions, as reported by database company Statista.
Based on the latest data, the number of sorties flown by manned aircraft in 2019 that included at least one weapons release was 2,434 -- more than double the 966 recorded the previous year. (AFCENT erred in a previous total, saying only 500 sorties with at least one drop were flown in 2018.)
Despite a high operations tempo from U.S. and coalition aircraft, the Trump administration has indicated it is open to downsizing in the region to bring more U.S. personnel home from the conflict, now in its 18th year.
Taliban and U.S. officials met several times last year in an effort to negotiate a potential peace deal and troop withdrawal.
In September, the White House abruptly called off talks following a suicide bombing attack that killed a U.S. soldier in Kabul.
"They thought they could use the attack to show strength, but actually what they showed is weakness," President Donald Trump said during the 9/11 ceremony at the Pentagon. "The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. has been weighing a possible drawdown of about 4,000 of the estimated 13,000 troops in Afghanistan "with or without" a political agreement with the Taliban.
"I would like to go down to a lower number because I want to either bring those troops home so they can refit and retrain for other missions, or be redeployed to the Indo-Pacific to face off our greatest challenge in terms of the great power competition -- that's vis-a-vis China," Esper told reporters traveling with him Dec. 16.
Planned troop rotations continue.
Last week, the Army announced that the headquarters unit of the 10th Mountain Division will head to Afghanistan in the spring as part of a regular deployment in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.
The unit of about 250 soldiers will follow on the arrival of about 3,500 troops from the 10th Mountain's 1st Brigade Combat Team. That unit is expected to move into place in late winter.
-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.