The top commander of U.S. air operations in the Middle East said that if the U.S were to step up its air attacks over Afghanistan, he has the planes in place to do it.
According to U.S media reports, Lt. Gen. Charles Brown was quoted as saying in a Pentagon teleconference from is headquarters in Qatar that “it’s a task that we can handle with the forces that we have on hand.”
The Washington Examiner reported that before this could happen, President Barack Obama would need to order a change in the rules of engagement.
Unlike in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S-led coalition is enabling local fighters with daily airstrikes in support their offensive operations against Islamic State positions, in Afghanistan, U.S commanders are limited to conducting airstrikes that fall into three narrow categories: in self-defense, to attack Daesh or al-Qaeda, or to prevent Afghan forces from being overrun.
According to the article, the Pentagon justified the drone strike against Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour as a defensive strike – because Mansour was deemed an imminent threat to U.S and NATO forces.
The Pentagon reportedly said the death of Mansour removed “an obstacle to peace,” but his replacement Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has reportedly vowed not to take part in peace talks with the Afghan government and threatened more violence.
The Washington Examiner said members of the U.S Congress and military experts are calling for Obama to lift the ban on targeting the Taliban, or as former U.S Central Command chief and CIA Director David Petraeus recently put it, “take the gloves off.”
“I hope this strike against the Taliban’s top leader will lead the administration to reconsider its policy of prohibiting U.S forces from targeting the Taliban,” said Sen. John McCain in a statement issued hours after the announcement of the drone strike against Mansour.
Brown, the three-star general in charge of U.S. Air Force Central Command, stressed that while he has the capability to expand the scope of airstrikes, it’s not his call, read the article.
The Pentagon said this week that commander of the U.S forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson will submit recommendations to Obama as soon as next week about whether to expand the air war in Afghanistan, as well as whether to further delay a planned drawdown of U.S troops.