Obama approves broader role for US forces in Afghanistan to help fight Taleban

US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy during a visit to Elkhart, Indiana, US on June 1.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy during a visit to Elkhart, Indiana, US on June 1.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Barack Obama has approved giving the US military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces battling a resilient Taleban insurgency, to assist them more proactively on the battlefield, a US official told Reuters.

The senior US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the move could allow greater use of US air power, including close air support.

But he cautioned, "This not a blanket order to target the Taleban."

Under the new policy, the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will be able to decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field – something they have so far only been doing with Afghan special operations forces, the official said.  

The expanded powers are only meant to be employed “in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield,” the official said.  

That means that US forces should not be expected to accompany Afghan soldiers on day-to-day missions.  The decision is a departure from current US rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which impose limits on US forces’ ability to strike at insurgents.  

The US military was previously allowed to take action against the Taleban “in extremis” - moments when their assistance was needed to prevent a significant Afghan military setback.  That definition, however, left the US military postured to assist them in more defensive instances.

The new policy would allow US forces to accompany Afghans at key moments in their offensive campaign against the Taleban.

“The US forces will more proactively support Afghan conventional forces,” the official said.