U.S. warplanes in Afghanistan have launched airstrikes against Taliban targets in recent days under new authority granted to the top commander there to help Afghan forces achieve “catastrophic success,” Defense officials said.

The expanded authorities allow Army Gen. John Nicholson to bolster Afghan offensives with U.S. combat advisers, airstrikes, surveillance aircraft and pilots to fly alongside the fledgling Afghan air force, according to a Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to speak publicly about the new missions.

Nicholson alone has the authority to order the new missions, the Defense official said. The four-star Army officer took command in March and has been assessing the security situation there. Expanding the U.S. combat role grew out of that assessment.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the expanded U.S. role in Afghanistan last week at a meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels. Within days, the first missions were flown, said Col. Michael Lawhorn, a military spokesman in Kabul. Since there have been only a few airstrikes, it’s too early to assess their effects, he said.

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