Gen. Nicholson: US forces battle Taliban ‘almost daily’
KABUL (Pajhwok): NATO and US forces commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson has said the American forces ‘almost daily’ battle Taliban militants using their new authorities, which include airstrikes.
Speaking at Bagram Air Field in central Parwan province on Tuesday, Nicholson said his troops are now better equipped to help Afghan forces take the offensive against the Taliban, and they have begun to carry out their mission in several areas.
Nicholson spoke to reporters accompanying US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who arrived here on an unannounced visit.
Carter during a joint press conference with President Ashraf Ghani said the expanded authority that President Barack Obama granted to US forces last month allowed "much more efficient use and effective use" of both American and Afghan forces.
US troops in Afghanistan can now attack Taliban fighters directly to gain a strategic advantage. Previously, American forces were only authorized to strike Taliban units if they were under attack or if their Afghan allies were facing imminent defeat.
Explaining the new rules of engagement for his troops, Nicholson used the example of last year's lengthy battle for control of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Nicholson said US troops were on "a defensive, reactive" footing during the prolonged Taliban offensive.
Now that American forces have more clear-cut guidelines allowing them greater freedom to attack Taliban units, Nicholson said, US assistance has helped Afghan forces expand their control outward from Kunduz city to a large area of that northern province.
Similarly, in southern Afghanistan, the US is attacking Taliban fighters alongside Afghan troops in areas such as Kandahar Province's Maiwand district, the US commander said.
Carter's trip to Afghanistan followed by less than a week Obama's announcement that US troop reductions will be slower than planned in the coming months.
Total American forces in Afghanistan as of next January will be 8,400 troops, up from the force of 5,500 men and women originally scheduled to be on duty at the start of 2017.
Troops 'over the horizon'
A senior defense official told VOA several troops will support the NATO mission from regional bases outside Afghanistan.
Nicholson specified that 400 US troops with Resolute Support would be outside Afghanistan. "Some capabilities we put over the horizon," Nicholson said, "but I'm very comfortable with them being where they are, and we can call them forward [to duty in Afghanistan] if necessary."
The decision to place "some hundreds" of troops outside Afghanistan complicates the question of how many American forces actually are being withdrawn, since any of the units shifted to regional bases could be redeployed into the country on short notice.
Nicholson said about 3,000 troops will be advising Afghan forces as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
Roughly 2,150 of the 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan will support the US counterterrorism mission, dubbed Freedom’s Sentinel, which targets remnants of Al Qaida, pockets of Islamic State fighters and six other terror groups. About 3,300 will serve as enablers for both missions.