After months of debate Barack Obama has approved expanded authorities that will allow U.S. troops to accompany and conduct airstrikes and offensive operations with Afghan forces when necessary, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Friday. This according to Military.com. Officials said the decision was made as a result of the Taliban's return to strength, especially in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan.
Since Obama announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, U.S. involvement has been limited to an advisory capacity, with active participation only when in defense of their own troops, the defense of the Afghanistan troops they were advising, or in a counter-terrorism role against al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and in situations where there was as specific threat that justified a response. Officials said the decision comes in an effort to strike the Taliban and offer improved support to the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations. Now, under the expanded authorities, U.S. forces can accompany Afghan forces on missions, and carry out offensive strikes on the Taliban or other threats if such strikes would have a "strategic effect on the battlefield," according to a senior defense official. The expanded authorities would also apply to the use of air support in offensive strikes. Officials stated that although U.S. forces will be accompanying conventional Afghan forces, they will not be on the front lines.
"The president made a decision to enable the commander there to have some additional authority to act proactively -- that is to anticipate situations in which the Afghan security forces would benefit from our support... rather than be simply reactive," Carter said Friday in Washington, D.C. According to another defense official, orders are currently being drafted to lay out the guidelines for the new authorities regarding rules of engagement and to what extent U.S. forces would be inserted to accompany the Afghan forces.
Despite the large losses of Afghan troops on the battlefield, U.S. officials are still optimistic given the resilience of the Afghan forces, further encouraged by the loss of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May. Brigadier General Charles Cleveland said last week that Nicholson was sending his assessment of the ongoing security threat there and the needs of the Afghan military to U.S. Central Command and to the Pentagon, and was expected to brief senior military leaders soon afterward.
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