President Obama has given the U.S. military more leeway in its mission to assist Afghan Forces in the battle against the Taliban, a U.S. official said Friday.
The U.S. official elaborated the core tenant of the President’s authorization was increased close air support when Afghan forces are in a firefight with the Taliban, reports Reuters.
Under the old rules of engagement the U.S. was only allowed to intervene on behalf of the Afghan defense forces when it was about to suffer a particularly devastating military setback. Under the new rules of engagement the U.S. can accompany Afghan forces when they’re offensively pursuing the Taliban to achieve a “strategic gain.”
Defense officials cautioned the Wall Street Journal that the new rules of engagement do not amount to a carte blanche for General Jack Nicholson, commanding general of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
“The ANSF is unprepared to counter the Taliban militants’ summer campaign,” the Institute for the Study of War noted in April 2016. After the U.S. transitioned to its advisory mission in Afghanistan the Taliban have made unprecedented gains against the Afghan defense forces. The Taliban captured the major city of Kunduz in October of 2015 marking the first such victory since the beginning of U.S. combat operations in 2001.
The new rules of engagement could augment new efforts to exploit cleavages within the Taliban movement in the wake of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death on May 23. The Taliban quickly chose a new little known commander, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. Akhundzada reportedly lacks battlefield expierence and was largely seen within the Taliban movement as an Islamic scholar.
The new Taliban commander quickly vowed not to resume peace talks with the U.S. backed government in Kabul quashing U.S. hopes for a resumption of peace talks. The new rules of engagement could help the U.S. military push back Taliban gains that have steadily increased in the last year and take advantage of the new Taliban commander’s lack of battlefield expierence.
A separate decision on sustained troop levels in Afghanistan is reportedly pending at the White House. Some experts have called on President Obama to maintain the nearly 10000 troops in Afghanistan to maintain stability despite his pledge earlier to drawdown U.S. troops to 5500.
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