The White House has now given U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan the legal authority to pursue and attack ISIS militants in Afghanistan.
The new authorization, the Military Times reported, allows U.S. forces to target groups linked to al Qaeda in addition to the ISIS offshoot in Afghanistan, which was established last January. The change, however, does not give to the Taliban a “hostile-force” designation.
This means that U.S. personnel cannot target Taliban insurgents unless they directly threaten American or Afghan forces. The Taliban has been fighting successfully to regain control of key districts in the Helmand province.
The count of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan lies between 1,000 and 3,000, according to an estimate from Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Campbell said last month that ISIS was attempting to set up a regional base in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The new authority to target ISIS in Afghanistan precipitated from the State Department’s designation of the ISIS offshoot in Afghanistan and Pakistan–namely ISIS-K (ISIS-Khorasan)–as a foreign terrorist organization. This, in turn, led White House lawyers to designate the group as a hostile force, a defense official told the Military Times.
Previously, U.S. forces were only allowed to directly target ISIS fighters in Afghanistan when evidence showed that the fighters were targeting American or Afghan forces.
The new authorization led the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee to criticize the White House for not sooner changing the rules of engagement.
“It shouldn’t have taken a year for the White House to identify ISIS as a threat in Afghanistan and authorize our forces to engage them. In fact, the committee understands that our military made two requests last year to combat this emerging ISIS threat, the first dating back to February 2015,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Tex.) said in a statement, according to CNN.
“Once again, the president’s inaction and denial of the ISIS threat has only resulted in its growth and put our troops and our Afghan partners at greater risk.”