White House agrees plan for more air strikes against Taliban in Afghanistan
The White House has approved plans to expand the US military's authority to conduct air strikes against the Taliban, as the violence in Afghanistan escalates.
Senior defence officials said the decision was made in recent days to expand the authority of US commanders to strike the Taliban and better support and assist the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations, using the US troops already in the country.
There is a broad desire across the Obama administration to give the military greater ability to help the Afghans fight and win the war.
The 9,800 US troops still in Afghanistan, however, would still not be involved in direct combat.
The decision comes as the Afghans struggle with a resurgent Taliban, particularly in the south.
But it is fraught with political sensitivities because President Barack Obama had made clear his commitment to get US forces out of Afghanistan.
That effort, however, has been stalled by the slow pace of the development of the Afghan military and the resilience of the Taliban.
The decision will give US forces greater flexibility in how they work with Afghan forces, but the new authorities must be used in selective operations that are deemed to have a strategic and important effect on the fight.
The Taliban are refocusing their attention mostly on the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan.
But the insurgents also have struck elsewhere, such as in Kunduz province in the north, where they overran and held the provincial capital for a few days last fall.
The results have been daunting - the UN says 3,545 Afghan civilians were killed and 7,457 wounded in 2015, most of them by the Taliban.