White House Announces Plan to Escalate Afghan War
June 13, 2016
AntiWar.com & The New York Times
After 14 years of US war, the Taliban maintain a significant footprint in Afghanistan. About one-fifth of the country is controlled or contested by the Taliban -- but this is a conservative estimate. Some analysts fear the Taliban probably either control or heavily influence "about a half of the country." Now, in addition to increased airstrikes, the White House confirmed plans to loosen restrictions on ground troops, with an eye toward engaging in direct combat.
White House Announces Plan to Escalate Afghan War
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(June 10, 2016) -- In addition to a planned increase in airstrikes, reported yesterday, the White House today confirmed plans to loosen restrictions on ground troops, particularly the special forces in occupied Afghanistan, with an eye toward increasingly their direct combat role.
Press secretary Josh Earnest says that the US troops will be "more proactive" in their operation, and while the US is still officially listing the troops engaged in the occupation as non-combat "advise and assist" troops, they will also engage in "occasional" combat operations alongside Afghan forces.
While plans had at one point been to end the occupation by now, the US has put troop withdrawals "on hold" repeatedly as the Taliban gains more territory. With the Afghan military's losses mounting, the new US commander, Lt. Gen. John Nicholson was keen to ramp operations back up.
Despite that, Earnest insisted the US is not "restarting" the combat role, irrespective of the combat they're planning to engage in, and are going to try to keep up with the pretense that the Afghan War, some 15 years in, is at least sort of over.
Obama Loosens Restrictions on US Forces Fighting Taliban in Afghanistan
Matthew Rosenberg / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (June 10, 2016) -- As the United States braces for an especially bloody summer fighting season in Afghanistan, President Obama inched closer this week to allowing American forces to once again directly battle the Taliban, loosening restrictions on airstrikes and on ground combat in support of Afghan forces, the administration said on Friday.
The president's decision to expand the military's mission just seven months before he leaves office signaled just how far the United States remains from achieving his goal of ending the American military role in Afghanistan.
Under the new rules, airstrikes will no longer have to be justified as necessary to defend American troops. United States commanders will now be allowed to use air power against the Taliban when they see fit, Pentagon and administration officials said. American forces will also be permitted to accompany regular Afghan troops into combat against the Taliban.
The guidelines reflect what has been apparent for months: American troops, primarily Special Operations forces, have continued to actively fight the Taliban since the declared end of the American combat mission in 2014.
The Afghan Army and police, riddled by corruption and hampered by poor leadership, have proved outmatched by the Taliban. The Afghan government remains weak and unstable, despite tens of billions of dollars in American aid.
Mr. Obama agreed to keep 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014 on the condition that the bulk of the force be focused on training and advising Afghan security forces. A smaller component was set aside to target militants with international ambitions, such as operatives for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The fight against the Taliban was intended to be left to Afghan forces, not Americans, who were supposed to strike the insurgents only if under direct threat.
But in the 18 months since, the administration has allowed the self-defense rationale to be stretched to its limits. Self-defense was used last month as the legal basis for the airstrike that killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, while he traveled in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.
The American officials insisted that the new rules would not pull United States troops back into the kind of daily fighting that they saw before the end of the combat mission in 2014.
American troops will only be supporting Afghan forces, not replacing them, on the battlefield, the officials said. Ground commanders will decide when and where American forces will go into battle, but the idea is that it will happen only during crucial engagements, not ordinary skirmishes.
"What this would allow is US forces to be more proactive in supporting conventional Afghan forces as they take the fight to the Taliban," the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said on Friday. "But when they're accompanying, they continue to remain focused on the advise-and-assist mission that they've been carrying out for almost two years."
The military had been clamoring for months for the expanded authority to go after the Taliban, arguing that Afghanistan was growing perilously unstable. It has also pressed Mr. Obama to abandon plans to cut the number of American forces in Afghanistan by nearly half by the beginning of 2017.
Mr. Earnest said that the new rules did not indicate that Mr. Obama would approve allowing more than 5,500 troops to remain in Afghanistan. But the administration has yet to decide on precise troop numbers, said the Pentagon and administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House has not made any public announcements yet.
The expanded mission for American troops is intended to help Afghan forces get through the summer fighting season, when warm weather opens the high mountain passes and insurgents can readily move between the battlefields of Afghanistan and their safe havens in Pakistan. Afghan forces struggled against the Taliban last summer, and the insurgents are expected to push even harder this year.
More Than 14 Years After US Invasion,
the Taliban Control Large Parts of Afghanistan
Sarah Almukhtar and Karen Yourish / The New York Times
(April 19, 2016) -- The Taliban have a significant footprint in Afghanistan, according to Bill Roggio, the editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that is tracking Taliban control.
Mr. Roggio has been able to confirm that about one-fifth of the country is controlled or contested by the Taliban, but he emphasized that this was a conservative estimate. "They probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country," he said.
According to Mr. Roggio, "contested" districts are those where the Afghan government controls the district center but the Taliban control large areas outside of the district center. "Control" means the Taliban are openly administering a district. Taliban control has fluctuated over the past 14 years.
The Taliban government collapsed after the American invasion, but the group regained control of multiple districts between 2005 and 2009, Mr. Roggio said. They withdrew from these areas after the temporary surge of American troops at the beginning of President Obama's administration, but they have been reclaiming territory since 2013.
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