US targets Afghan groups with ISIS links

An Afghan police officer holds a pistol at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb 1, 2016.
An Afghan police officer holds a pistol at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb 1, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The United States has carried out at least a dozen operations - including commando raids and air strikes - in the past three weeks against militants in Afghanistan aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), expanding the Obama administration's military campaign against the terrorist group beyond Iraq and Syria.

The operations followed US President Barack Obama's decision last month to broaden the authority of US commanders to attack ISIS' new branch in Afghanistan.

The administration - which has been accused by Republicans of not having a strategy to defeat the group - is revamping plans for how it fights the terrorist organisation in regions where it has developed affiliates.

Under newly relaxed rules the White House sent to the Pentagon last month, the military now needs to show only that a proposed target is related to ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.

Before, such a target could be struck only if it had significant ties to Al-Qaeda. The military had also been able to strike ISIS targets in self-defence, but the new rules lower the standard for such offensive operations against the group.

"We have rules of engagement now that have been very well thought through," Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said last week, adding that they "allow us to do what we think needs to be done."

Although Mr Obama had declared an end to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the operations are part of a continuing and potentially expanding US military footprint in the fight against ISIS. US commanders in Afghanistan said between 90 and 100 ISIS militants were killed in the recent operations.

The US has 9,800 combat troops in Afghanistan. Although that figure is scheduled to decline to 5,500 by the time Mr Obama leaves office next January, officials are privately hinting that he may again slow the troop withdrawal later this year.

In Iraq, the US has about 3,700 troops, including trainers, advisers and commandos. There are several dozen Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'US targets Afghan groups with ISIS links'. Print Edition | Subscribe