WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has approved plans giving US military commanders broader authority in helping Afghanistan forces repel Taliban fighters after US and NATO combat operations formally end in December, a senior administration official said.
The decision, made in recent weeks, will allow US forces to carry out limited missions against the Taliban seen as necessary to protect Americans and support Afghanistan's security forces.
"While we will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban, 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 official said.
A report by The New York Times late on Friday said the new authorisation also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.
Obama had announced last May after a whirlwind visit to see US troops in Afghanistan that US combat operations in the country would end in December and that troop levels would be reduced to 9,800.
Under Obama's plan, that number would be reduced by roughly half by the end of 2015. By the end of 2016, the US presence would be cut to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as was done in Iraq.
The US military presence in Afghanistan hinged on the approval of a bilateral security agreement with the new government there, a step that was delayed by a disputed presidential election.