U.S. officials disclosed late Friday that in recent weeks, President Barack Obama secretly approved guidelines allowing for the expansion of military operations in Afghanistan in 2015, The New York Times reports
The order, made during a White House meeting with his senior national security advisers, calls for American ground troops to fight the Taliban and other militias threatening U.S. troops or the Afghan government for at least another year. American F-16's, B-1B bombers, and Predator and Reaper drones will also be used during the mission in 2015, according to the Times.
Earlier this year, Obama said that the U.S. military would withdraw from any combat role in the country, and the remaining 9,800 troops would only be training Afghan forces and pushing out remaining Al-Qaida forces.
However, Pentagon officials demanded that American troops complete their remaining missions first, and Obama ultimately reversed his promise, in what was described by the Times as a "lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives."
"The military pretty much got what it wanted," one official told the Times.
Generals in the Pentagon and Afghanistan pressed Obama to broaden the mission to allow U.S. troops to attack Taliban forces, the Haqqani network, and other militants.
A few of Obama's top civilian aides reportedly objected to the decision, saying that American lives should not be risked to defeat the Taliban – they should instead only have a mission to fight Al-Qaida.
Senior administration officials claim that the Taliban will only be targeted by American forces if they directly threaten the U.S. or coalition forces.
"We will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban," the official told the Times. "To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to Al-Qaida, however, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe."
The decision was largely influenced by the advance of Islamic State forces in Iraq, leaving some officials worried the same could happen in Afghanistan if U.S. forces pull out too quickly.
Half of the remaining 9,800 troops are set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2015. The rest will move to Kabul and Bagram and leave by the end of 2016, according to the Times.
A detailed plan of the new Afghanistan mission, being re-branded Operation Resolute Support, is expected to be announced by the Pentagon within the next several weeks.