Obama to Keep 9,800 US Troops in Afghanistan after 2014 Withdrawal
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with troops after delivering remarks at Bagram Air Base in Kabul [File photo] Reuters

President Barack Obama has decided to expand US military operations in Afghanistan by granting its forces new authority to assist Afghan soldiers to fight Taliban insurgency. As per the plan, the US will also conduct air strikes against Taliban when required by Afghan troops.

According to Reuters, American troops will now begin to provide support to local Afghan forces more proactively on the battlefield, compared with the current strategy of accompanying only elite Afghan forces.

A senior US defence official, who spoke to the news agency on condition of anonymity, cautioned that "this is not a blanket order to target the Taliban". Obama's decision allows commanders only to maximise their base "in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield". This means the US will not be assisting Afghan soldiers on a day-to-day basis.

"This added flexibility... is fully supported by the Afghan government and will help the Afghans at an important moment for the country," the official added.

The new measure was recommended by General John Nicholson, US commander in Afghanistan, who took charge in March. It has come in the wake of the deteriorating security situation in some parts of the country following withdrawal of foreign troops. The situation has been further complicated by the presence of Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaeda elements in the strife-torn country. Afghan troops have had to wage a lone battle.

US forces in Afghanistan currently number about 9,800 and Obama had announced that the figure would be reduced to 5,500 by 2017. Some retired generals and senior diplomats warned complete US withdrawal could hamper the fight against the Taliban which continues to mount attacks despite the death of its chief Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in Pakistan in May.

Although, the US has been given more powers in the Islamic republic to take on the Taliban, experts warn that it remains uncertain when Afghans will be able to combat the militants on their own, given the political system and financial difficulties.