Broader Role for US Forces in Afghanistan

Broader Role for US Forces in Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama has approved giving the US military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces battling a resilient Taliban insurgency, in a move to assist them more proactively on the battlefield, a US official told Reuters.
The senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision would also allow greater use of US air power, particularly close air support. However, the official cautioned: “This is not a blanket order to target the Taliban.”
Obama’s decision again redefines America’s support role in Afghanistan’s grinding conflict, more than a year after international forces wrapped up their combat mission and shifted the burden to Afghan troops.
It also comes ahead of Obama’s eagerly anticipated decision on whether to forge ahead with a scheduled reduction in the numbers of US troops from about 9,800 currently to 5,500 by the start of 2017.
A group of retired generals and senior diplomats urged Obama last week to forgo those plans, warning they could undermine the fight against the Afghan Taliban, whose leader was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan last month.
Under the new policy, the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will be able to decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field—something they have so far only been doing with Afghan special forces, the official said.
The expanded powers are only meant to be employed “in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield”, the official said.
That means that US forces should not be expected to accompany Afghan soldiers on day-to-day missions.
The decision is a departure from current US rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which impose limits on US forces’ ability to strike at insurgents.

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