After months of debate, the White House has approved plans to expand the military‘s authority to conduct airstrikes against the 1 when necessary, as the violence in Afghanistan escalates, senior U.S. and defense officials said Thursday.
Several officials said the decision was made in recent days to expand the authority of U.S. commanders to strike the Taliban and better support and assist the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations, using the U.S. troops already in the country. There is a broad desire across the Obama administration to give the military greater ability to help the Afghans fight and win the war.
The 9,800 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, however, would still not be involved in direct combat.
The officials were not authorized to talk publicly about the discussions so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The decision comes as the Afghans struggle with a resurgent Taliban, particularly in the south. But it is fraught with political sensitivities because President Barack Obama had made clear his commitment to get U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. That effort, however, has been stalled by the slow pace of the development of the Afghan military and the resilience of the Taliban.
The decision will give U.S. forces greater flexibility in how they partner with Afghan forces, but the new authorities must be used in selective operations that are deemed to have a strategic and important effect on the fight.
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