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Afghan Lawmakers Approve Security Accords with US, NATO

FILE - U.S. troops inspect at the site of a suicide attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Nov. 13, 2014.
FILE - U.S. troops inspect at the site of a suicide attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Nov. 13, 2014.

Afghanistan's lower house of parliament has approved agreements with the United States and NATO allowing international forces to remain in the country past the end of this year, amid a renewed offensive by Taliban militants.

The accords permit the U.S. and NATO to keep 12,000 troops in Afghanistan to support local forces.

The ratification Sunday followed reports that President Barack Obama has issued new guidelines expanding the U.S. military's ability to confront Taliban fighters, not just al-Qaida, in Afghanistan.

Speaking under condition of anonymity, U.S. officials told news outlets the decision will allow U.S. troops to go after Taliban fighters if they pose a threat to U.S. and coalition forces. The order reportedly also applies if the militants provide direct support to al-Qaida.

The new authorization for 2015 also means the U.S. can offer air support to Afghan troops when needed.

Nazifullah Salarzai, a spokesman for the Afghan president, told VOA's Dari service his country is counting on the support of its international partners in training and the fight against terrorism. He added that the Afghan government is also working on a code of conduct in regard to U.S. air support.

President Obama said previously that U.S. missions in Afghanistan next year would be limited to training Afghan forces and counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida.

The new guidelines will not change the plan to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan to 9,800 by January 1.

The New York Times newspaper was the first to report on Mr. Obama's authorization. In a report posted late Friday on its website, the paper said the order "ensures" American troops will have "a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year."

The report said the president made the decision to broaden the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan at a White House meeting in "recent weeks" with his top national security advisers.

The New York Times said the change was in part related to the rapid advance of jihadist Islamic State militants in Iraq, which has sparked criticism that Obama pulled troops out without a fully prepared Iraqi military in place.

The newspaper said new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's openness to a U.S. military presence in the country also contributed to the shift.

President Ghani signed the security agreements with the U.S. and NATO after taking office in September. but the accords also needed ratification by parliament.

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