U.S. military troops are trying to persuade their commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, to once again grant them the authority to carry out offensive operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
President Obama changed the rules of engagement as he transitioned U.S. troops away from a combat in Afghanistan and reduced the American military footprint at the beginning of January 2015.
“The American military wants presidential permission to use airpower to blunt the group’s threatened advances this summer, according to several U.S. officials,” notes the Journal. “The White House first wants to see what effect the death of [Taliban leader] Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan over the weekend will have on the Taliban, senior administration officials said.”
“Under existing military authorization, U.S. operations against the Taliban can only be conducted under three broad circumstances: when U.S. or coalition forces are under threat; when U.S. officials deem that the Taliban is providing direct support to al Qaeda; or when the Taliban pose a ‘strategic threat’ to Afghan forces,” it adds.
Under the standing rules of engagement, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are doing their job with one hand tied behind their back, making it difficult to target Taliban jihadists on the ground.
Before leaving his post as the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Campbell asked President Obama to allow the American military to target the Taliban without having to wait to be attacked first.
“The Obama administration declined to act on Gen. Campbell’s request because officials wanted to hear first from Gen. Campbell’s successor, Army Gen. John Nicholson,” reports WSJ.
According to the report, various U.S. officials have indicated that “Gen. Nicholson, like his predecessor, is eager to have the authority to use airstrikes against the Taliban to aid Afghan forces in their fight against the group.”
The Taliban has led an increasingly violent insurgency since President Obama ended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan back in December 2014, inflicting record casualties on Afghan civilians and security forces as well as expanding the territory it controls.
“U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak,” notes WSJ.
The Journal adds:
U.S. officials said the White House wants to avoid the perception of a Taliban surge in the middle of the U.S. presidential election campaign. There are also limits to what additional air power can achieve, but experts and individuals inside the military believe that shouldn’t mean military power should be ruled out. Afghan officials have told their American counterparts that the Taliban are unlikely to return to the negotiating table unless the group’s leaders become convinced that the government in Kabul is strong enough militarily to hold them back.