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Obama gives go-ahead to more US military role in Afghanistan

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the White House Brady Press Briefing Room in Washington. Obama is slated Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, to finalize a set of new executive actions tightening the nation’s gun laws. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

US President Barack Obama has allowed the American military to assume a bigger role in Afghanistan.

A senior US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has told Reuters that the move will allow greater use of US air power against Taliban militants, including close air support for the Afghan army.

The official added, however, that “this is not a blanket order to target the Taliban.”

The report gave no further details of the decision which comes after months of debate on the expansion of airstrikes against the Taliban.

Still, reports say the US troops currently in Afghanistan would not get involved in direct combat.

The latest move comes as Afghanistan struggles with a resurgent Taliban, particularly in the south.

It also runs afoul of President Barack Obama’s pledge to get US forces out of Afghanistan, which Washington blames on the slow pace of the development of the Afghan military and the resilience of the Taliban.

US officials say the Taliban have stepped up their attacks recently mostly in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, noting that the Afghan militant group is also increasing strikes in Kunduz Province in the north.

Terror attacks have also been rising in frequency in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces bordering Pakistan during past months.

This AFP photograph taken on February 24, 2016, shows former Taliban militants carrying their weapons before handing them over as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad.

The intensified attacks by the Taliban come more than one and a half months after the group began its annual spring offensive.

Estimates show that about 200,000 people have been killed in less than three decades of Taliban militancy in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan faces a security challenge years after the United States and its allies invaded the country in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but many areas in the country are still beset with insecurity.

There are currently some 10,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan despite the end of the US-led combat mission on December 31, 2014. The forces, mainly from the US, are there for what Washington calls a support mission. NATO says the forces focus mainly on counter-terrorism operations and training Afghan soldiers and policemen.

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