US airstrikes in Afghanistan to expand as Taliban attacks grow — report

© Josh Smith
Facing a rebounding Taliban insurgency, the US will expand airstrikes in Afghanistan, according to a “senior US defense official,” the Associated Press reported. The new plan may affect the timeline of withdrawal for the 9,800 US troops stationed there.

The anonymous US official was not permitted to speak openly on the matter of airstrikes, according to AP, but the US Department of Defense did address US troop levels in Afghanistan.

"In every step of our review of Afghanistan, the question of what's the best way to use our forces is something we're constantly looking at. It's also in the same sense that we're looking at the number of troops. We are always looking at the authorities question and the best use of our troops," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Thursday.

Reuters also cited an anonymous senior US defense official in a report released late Thursday that claimed President Obama had already approved expanding the airstrikes, though the official clarified, "This is not a blanket order to target the Taliban."

By Thursday evening, however, the Pentagon had canceled the planned announcement of policy change without explanation. There is “vigorous discussion” inside the Obama administration regarding what to do about the Taliban’s resurgence, officials told CNN on condition of anonymity.

Both the current top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, and his predecessor, Gen. John Campbell, who was replaced in March, have advocated for increases in US troop numbers in discussions with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, according to AP.

While no precise plan has been outlined, the news comes on the same day a military watchdog spoke on the languishing effort to rebuild the war-torn country.

“The bottom line is too much has been wasted in Afghanistan. Too much money was spent in too small a country with too little oversight,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, John Sopko, told Reuters earlier Thursday.

“And if the security situation continues to deteriorate, even areas where money was spent wisely and gains were made, could be jeopardized,” Sopko added.

Unless the new plan changes the Obama administration’s troop withdrawal schedule, over 40 percent of the 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan before a new president is sworn in next January.

Of the $113 billion appropriated by Congress for Afghan reconstruction in the last 15 years, some 60 percent was spent on equipment and training for Afghan security forces, Reuters reported. Sopko could not say whether the money was spent effectively.

According to the latest SIGAR report published in April, funding also went towards the country’s agricultural industry, reportedly encompassing over half of Afghanistan’s workforce, as well as banking, law, infrastructure, new industries and repelling the drug trade.