President Obama extends US combat mission in Afghanistan through 2015
US President Barack Obama has reportedly authorised American soldiers to continue combat operations in Afghanistan through 2015.
The move expands on earlier plans that limited US soldiers to counter-terrorism strikes against al Qaeda after this year, by giving them a wider role to fight against the Taliban alongside the Afghan Army, as reported by The New York Post.
Devised as part of Nato's Operation Resolute Support in May, the plan had permitted a small contingent of 1,800 US troops for counter-terrorism operations against remnants of al Qaeda.
A senior US administration official was quoted by CNN as saying: "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 United States may provide combat enabler support to the [Afghan National Security Forces] in limited circumstances to prevent detrimental strategic effects to these Afghan security forces."
According to the original plan, US soldier levels were to be reduced to 9,800 by the year-end, to half that in 2015, and to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul by the end of 2016, Reuters reported.
The new authorisation also enables the deployment of US jets, bombers and drones, and coincides with the ratification of new security agreements by Afghanistan's lower house of parliament that would prolong US and Nato soldiers' presence in the country.
The bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US and the status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Nato were approved by 152 votes to five.
Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said: "The agreements provide for Afghan security forces to take full responsibility for their country's security and for them to also be further equipped and enabled."
Despite assuming lead responsibility for security across Afghanistan in June 2013, the Afghan National Security Forces frequently complain they lack the resources to fight the Taliban.
Approximately 9,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed since the start of 2013, as reported by the Guardian.
Since its start in 2001, the Afghan war has claimed the lives of more than 3,400 US and coalition soldiers.
Image: US soldiers return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan. Photo: courtesy of Pfc. Cameron Boyd.