WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama has approved a wider role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan to help local forces combat the Taliban.
The new plan, which follows months of debate, will allow for increased airstrikes against the Taliban when necessary, and, more generally, give U.S. forces more flexibility in how they partner with Afghan forces. The plan does not involve U.S. ground troops.
The decision will once again redefine the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan more than a year after international combat troops finished their missions, leaving Afghan troops to fight the Taliban.
It also comes six months before the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to 5,500 -- a move Obama has said would happen by 2017.
Afghanistan's fight against a resurgent Taliban has intensified in recent months.
The United Nations said 3,545 Afghan citizens were killed and 7,457 were wounded in 2015 -- most of them at the hands of the Taliban.