President Obama has quietly issued an order to allow U.S. forces in Afghanistan to continue some limited combat operations in 2015, after their planned end on Dec. 31.
“Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision,” reported The New York Times. “The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.”
The Times, citing anonymous sources, first reported Obama’s new guidelines. Officials then confirmed the details to The Associated Press, also on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss Obama’s new decision.
In May, the President said the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan would end after this year and that the mission for the 9,800 soldiers remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and conducting narrower counterterrorism missions against al-Qaeda.
Under the President’s new guidelines, approved in recent weeks, American forces have the authority to once again engage Taliban fighters, not just al-Qaeda jihadists.
U.S. soldiers were expected to limit their operations in Afghanistan to counterterrorism missions against al-Qaeda after the end of 2014.
The presence of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan far exceeds that of al-Qaeda militants, adding weight to Obama’s new order.
Obama’s decision came in response to U.S. military commanders who need troops to be allowed to continue fighting the Taliban.
“American officials said that while the debate over the nature of the American military’s role beginning in 2015 has lasted for years, two issues in particular have shifted the debate in recent months. The first is the advance of Islamic State forces across northern Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi Army, which has led to criticism of Mr. Obama for a military pullout of Iraq that left Iraqi troops ill-prepared to protect their soil,” reported the Times.
Obama’s new decision does not change plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops to 9,800 at the end of this year, a figure that is expected to be cut in half by the end of 2015. The year 2017 is expected to find the U.S. military practically out of Afghanistan, with the exception of a small residual force that will be there to secure the American embassy.
The new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has quietly lifted the ban on night raids by special forces units that his predecessor put in place. This came after details of Obama’s new authorization to expand the U.S. combat mission beyond 2014 were published.
Responding to Obama’s new order, a senior White House official reiterated that “the United States’ combat mission in Afghanistan will be over by the end of this year,” the Times reported.