New powers granted to US commander would allow "much more efficient use" of US troops, Afghan forces, said Ash Carter
The senior US commander in Afghanistan will have greater freedom to strike at the Taliban under broad new powers approved last month by President Barack Obama, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said today.
Carter, on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said the powers granted to General John Nicholson would allow "much more efficient use and effective use of the forces we have here as well as the Afghan forces."
Under the authorities previously granted to Nicholson, who commands both the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and a separate US counter-terrorism mission, his forces could generally only intervene against the Taliban when Afghan government troops requested emergency assistance.
"It obviously, to me, makes a lot more sense to be doing it the way we're doing it now," Carter said at a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Afghan forces seek combat assistance
Carter's visit comes days after Obama shelved plans to cut the US force in Afghanistan nearly in half by year’s end, opting instead to keep 8,400 troops there through to the end of his presidency in January.
Afghan forces, fighting largely on their own since the NATO-led force ended most combat operations in 2014, have frequently asked for more combat assistance from their allies, particularly for close air strikes.
US forces have already used the broader authority granted to their commanders to conduct air strikes against Taliban targets in southern Afghanistan.
Carter, who met both Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah as well as senior U.S. military commanders, said it was "critical" that the national unity government formed after disputed elections in 2014 maintained stability.
Ghani thanked the United States as well as other NATO allies who last week pledged to maintain support for Afghanistan. He also praised Afghan forces, who he said had been "standing tall" since the departure of foreign combat forces.