Combat missions in Afghanistan officially ended in 2014.
“They are there to ‘train, advise and assist’ Afghan soldiers and police as part of NATO’s US-led, non-combat mission. US rules of engagement do allow force to be used against the Taliban, but only in self-defence,” Jack Serle writes for Common Dreams.
While combat missions in Afghanistan continued, these have only been targeted against al-Qaeda and Daesh, also known as IS/Islamic State, as part of a separate counter-terrorism mission. These numbers however, seem to imply that the US has quietly begun fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.
Last week, President Barack Obama relaxed the restrictions on US forces joining the fight against the Taliban, so the strikes may become even more frequent.
“What this would allow is U.S. forces to be more proactive in supporting conventional Afghan forces as they take the fight to the Taliban,” 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.”
Prior to the announcement, there had already been a sharp increase in strikes. From January through May of this year, there were approximately 450 airstrikes in Afghanistan, compared to just 189 during the same period in the previous year.
“The US combat role in Afghanistan ended at the end of 2014, and the President is not considering restarting it,” Earnest said on Friday. “But the question is, is it possible for us to be more proactive in supporting conventional Afghan security forces? And we anticipate that by offering them more support in the form of advice and assistance, and occasionally accompanying them on their operations, that they are likely to be more effective on the battlefield.”