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President Obama has authorized U.S. forces in Afghanistan to retain the same counter-terrorism authorities in that country even after the combat mission ends there on Dec. 31, officials have confirmed to NBC News.
The New York Times first reported the classified order that allows a greater combat role for U.S. forces that remain in Afghanistan than had previously been expected.
A senior U.S. official told NBC News that the president recently decided that the current counter-terrorism forces there would continue to operate in that role next year — meaning American troops will likely be involved in offensive operations against the Taliban even though the U.S. mission was supposed to merely train, advise and assist Afghan forces after 2014.
A senior U.S. official described America’s role in Afghanistan in 2015 as "two narrow missions" and that one of those would remain counter-terrorism.
"A key focus of the United States' post-2014 mission in Afghanistan will be counter-terrorism, and we will continue to target the remnants of al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan to prevent an al-Qa'ida resurgence or external plotting against U.S. targets or the homeland," the official said. The second mission would be training Afghan forces but U.S. troops could "provide combat enabler support" in certain circumstances, the official said.
The new Afghan government agreed this year to security agreement that would allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after Dec. 31.
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