U.S. military forces in Afghanistan are engaging with Taliban forces “almost daily” through air strikes and ground operations, according to the top U.S. commander in the country.
Army Gen. John Nicholson has been flexing new authority from the Obama administration that allow commanders much more breadth in how they counter Taliban threats. Most notably, the new provisions give U.S. forces the ability to increase the use of close air support when working with Afghan security forces, and even plan and engage in their own missions on the ground.
Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that he will “use our authorities to assist the Afghans there in an offensive, proactive manner.” His words stand in stark contrast to Obama administration and NATO claims that the combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Technically speaking, the combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December 2014, and was replaced with the Resolute Support Mission, which supposedly relegated U.S. and NATO forces to a advise and assist role.
Taliban forces have made a massive resurgence since the combat mission was officially ended. The terrorist group now controls vast swathes of territory across Afghanistan, with a presence in as much as 50 percent of districts, according to one estimate. Additionally, U.S. troops have engaged with Taliban forces on several occasions since the end of the combat mission.
The new authorities given to Nicholson and other commanders in Afghanistan were a direct response to the Taliban resurgence. U.S. forces have used the new provision to engage in air strikes a “couple dozen” times since announcement, according to a U.S. military official who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the operations.
Under the new provisions, U.S. military officials will be allowed to engage with the enemy directly should the operation be considered strategically crucial. Nicholson told reporters he personally reviews each case before giving his approval to ensure the standard is being met.
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