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Afghan parliament approves US, NATO agreements

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's parliament approved agreements Sunday with the U.S. and NATO allowing international troops to remain in the country past the end of this year amid a renewed offensive by Taliban militants.

The international combat mission in Afghanistan, begun after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, was to conclude at the end of this year. The new agreements ratified by parliament allow the U.S. and NATO to keep a total of 12,000 troops in Afghanistan next year to support local forces.

However, the agreements come after U.S. officials said President Barack Obama had approved new guidelines allowing American troops to engage Taliban fighters, not just al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan. Obama's decision also means the U.S. can conduct air support when needed.

In approving the agreements in a 152-5 vote Sunday, Afghan lawmakers made no mention of Obama's expansion of the U.S. role in fighting militants in the country. In a statement, presidential spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai said the foreign troops will "train, advise and assist Afghan security forces."

"Afghan forces are responsible for the security and defense of the Afghan people, and in the fight against international terrorism and training of our national security forces we count on the support and assistance of our international partners," Salarzai said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed agreements with NATO and the U.S. immediately after taking office in September, but they also required lawmakers' approval. His country, beset by decades of war, has seen Taliban militants increasingly attack civilians and local security forces amid the foreign troop drawdown.

Obama's decision does not affect the overall number of U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Obama ordered the American force presence to be cut to 9,800 by the end of this year, a figure expected to be cut in half by the end of 2015.

Obama wants all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan a year later as his presidency draws to a close.

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