United States officials say the force level and duties of U.S. and NATO troops remaining in Afghanistan after December have not changed. But media reports say more U.S. troops will be staying than the number announced. The reports also say the troops' rules for military operations will be expanded.
Recently, a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters that the U.S. forces will not specifically go after Taliban targets. But he said anyone thought to be a threat to U.S. or Afghan forces will, in his words, "become fair game."
President Barack Obama announced in May that he planned to reduce the size of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan to 9,800 by 2015. A U.S. State Department official confirmed six months later that the military's combat operation in Afghanistan will end this year. But he said the force level announced by the president might take time to reach.
"Because of delays in the post-election government formation and the signing of the US/Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO SOFA, the force-generation effort for the post-2014 mission is a few months behind where we had hoped to be. But nonetheless, the United States remains confident that the Resolution Support mission troops, to include 9,800 troops, will be in place by early 2015."
That was State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke. He says the identification and deployment of forces from some of America's NATO allies have experienced a delay of a few months.
The Reuters news service says the United States is preparing to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by at least several hundred. The reason: to make up for changes in the size of the NATO force. Reuters says its report was based on information from three people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Rear Admiral John Kirby is a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department.
"We're still having discussion with our NATO partners about Resolute Support mission, and the resources that are going to be required to execute that. As you know, it's not all an American posture. The 9,800 is the number that the president has authorized for the American presence in Resolute Support. But that still means there's a couple of thousand or so that need to be provided by coalition partners. We're still in discussions with them about that."
Recently, The New York Times reported that President Obama decided to approve a more expansive program for the military in 2015 than planned. The newspaper said his decision means U.S. troops will have direct involvement in fighting in Afghanistan for at least another year. The new order reportedly enables U.S. forces to carry out operations against groups considered a threat to U.S. troops or the Afghan government.
Admiral Kirby says there has been no decision to expand the duties of the troops.
"Going into 2015, we've always said there's going to be two missions for our troops going forward. One is to support Resolute Support, which is the train, advise and assist mission, the NATO mission in Afghanistan. And the other is, of course, to continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, and those will continue. Valid terrorist targets will continue to be prosecuted, and our troops will continue to have the right to defend themselves when needed."
Both The New York Times and the Associated Press reported another development. They said that the new Afghan president is canceling the country's ban on night-time raids. Former president Hamid Karzai approved the ban because such raids were considered invasive. Night-time raids were considered an important weapon in the fight against the Taliban.
I'm George Grow.