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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has informed Congress that American forces in Afghanistan will continue to fight those who threaten the viability of the Afghan government.

In a letter sent this week to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Mr Trump redefined the US mission in Afghanistan from grooming Afghan forces to fighting the insurgents and directly engaging them.

Although training, advising and assisting Afghan forces is still top on the list of US military mission in Afghanistan, Mr Trump also underlined other goals some of which had been abandoned by the Obama administration.

The goals he underlined are: “Conducting and supporting counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and against ISIS [the militant Islamic State group]; and taking appropriate measures against those who provide direct support to Al Qaeda, threaten US and coalition forces, or threaten the viability of the Afghan government or the ability of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to achieve campaign success.”

President Trump also informed Congress that US forces remained in Afghanistan for the “purposes of stopping the re-emergence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten the United States, supporting the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban in the field, and creating conditions to support a political process to achieve a lasting peace”.

The president said that these goals were consistent with the strategy he announced on Aug 21, which seeks to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield to force them work with the Afghan government for brining peace and stability to the country.

Read: The three failed Afghan policies reflected in Trump's speech

“The United States remains in an armed conflict, including in Afghanistan and against the Taliban, and active hostilities remain ongoing,” Mr Trump informed the lawmakers in his annual report on deployments of US armed forces equipped for combat in support of Washington’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The US media noted that Mr Trump’s combat advisory represents “a sea change” in the American approach to the Afghan war since the end of combat operations in 2015.

The Obama administration, while announcing the end of US military operations in Afghanistan, also said that Americans forces would now be largely confined to their bases, training Afghan forces and advising military leaders.

Under the new policy, the Trump administration not only decided to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan but also ordered a major expansion of the US war efforts against the Taliban. The administration also allowed American forces working directly with Afghan troops in combat to call in airstrikes.

The new powers permit US forces to conduct bombing raids and artillery fire for their Afghan partners. Last month, the US Air Force also bombed 25 heroin labs and poppy fields in Taliban-controlled areas.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2017