By Debbie Gregory.
President Obama has approved new authorities for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in an effort to better use the troops. The new rules give U.S. forces a greater ability to accompany conventional Afghan forces that are fighting the Taliban.
“This makes good sense. It’s a good use of the combat power that we have there,” he said.
The changes allow an increase of close air support, which could lead to additional airstrikes, and come on the heels of Gen. John Nicholson’s 90-day review.
Since the combat mission officially ended in 2014, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have largely avoided targeting the Taliban.
Since then, the rules of engagement have limited strikes in Afghanistan to protecting U.S. ground troops, targeting al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or protecting Afghan forces when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the Taliban.
But in the face of a resurgent Taliban and a struggling Afghan military, there has been a push for expanded criteria in the rules of engagement.
Carter pushed back on any notion that expanded authorities mean a change in mission.
“Obviously, our mission is the same, which is to help the Afghans maintain control of the country and to avoid having a counter-terrorism challenge once again from Afghanistan,” he said.
Nicholson’s review also assessed troop levels in Afghanistan. Currently, there are approximately 9,800 U.S. troops there, with plans to drop that force to 5,500 by the end of the year.
Nicholson was largely expected to recommend keeping more troops in the country, but no decision has been made as to whether troop levels will change.