In a recent policy shift, President Obama will change the expected role of U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan for 2015.
In May, the President announced an exit strategy saying, “This is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.”
U.S. foreign policy objectives toward Afghanistan are as follows: disrupt threats poised by Al Qaeda, support Afghan security forces and give the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed and stand on their own. These objectives have not changed. The way we pursue those objectives has.
Previously, the strategy was to end our military combat mission, leaving Afghanistan troops in control of its security with U.S. troops in an “advisory” role for 2015. The goal was, and still is, to cut the roughly 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan in half by the end of 2015.
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Now, the President's strategy has continued the direct military involvement we have seen for 13 years, allowing American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government. The change in strategy the President announced in May has been nullified, as we are continuing our previous strategy for one more year.
However, as senior white house official explains, the change is geared toward the protection of our troops.
"We will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban," the official said. "To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al Qaeda, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe."
The decision will also allow for American planes and drones to support Afghan troops in combat.
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The decision points at two competing perspectives on Afghan involvement: the Obama administration's defiance on ending the war in Afghanistan and the Pentagon's persistence that American troops are unable to successfully complete their missions against the Taliban.
Other factors include the poor performance of Iraqi troops against ISIS advances and the election of new Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani, who supports American involvement in Afghanistan. After his election, both countries signed a security agreement that allows U.S. troops to stay beyond the previous December deadline.
Under that agreement, most of the U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, shortly before Obama's presidency ends.