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Obama Approves Expanded U.S. Military Powers In Afghanistan

A US Marine removes ammunition from around his neck during an exercise in Helmand province (file photo).

President Barack Obama has approved giving the U.S. military greater authority to help Afghan forces battle the Taliban, including increased use of air strikes, AP and Reuters reported on June 9.

Under the new policy, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field -- something they have previously done only with Afghan special forces, U.S. officials told the news agencies.

The expanded powers are only to be employed "in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield," they said.

That means that U.S. forces would not accompany Afghan soldiers on day-to-day missions.

The decision is a departure from current U.S. rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which impose limits on U.S. forces' ability to strike at insurgents.

The U.S. military was previously allowed to take action against the Taliban only when its assistance was needed to prevent a significant Afghan military setback.

The new policy would allow U.S. forces to accompany Afghans at key moments in their campaign against the Taliban and be more proactive in supporting them.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters