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afghanistan war

President Obama quietly approves expanded U.S. role in Afghanistan

Over the past few weeks, President Barack Obama reportedly gave the go-ahead on new guidelines for U.S. missions in Afghanistan, The Associated Press reports.

While the president's new orders will not affect the number of U.S. troops stationed in the country — total American forces in Afghanistan are expected to be lowered to 9,800 by the end of 2014 — it will impact the scope of the remaining troops' missions.

Previous plans had limited troops to counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda, but the new guidelines will allow U.S. forces to provide air support to Afghan operations, as well as target Taliban members who "directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al Qaeda," one U.S. official said. The Taliban is a far larger presence in Afghanistan than al Qaeda, and military commanders reportedly lobbied the president for approval to more directly battle the Taliban, prior to Obama's approval of the new guidelines.