[…] By early 2015, the American war against the Taliban was supposed to be over. President Barack Obama had drawn down the troop force—roughly 100,000 at its height—to about 10,000, most of which remained only to train the Afghan security forces. U.S. planes continued to kill militants loyal to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (ISIS), but airstrikes against the Taliban were allowed only in self-defense.
There was one exception, however: American aircraft could pursue the Taliban when Afghan allies were about to be overrun. This scenario became increasingly common as the insurgent group took advantage of the security vacuum created by U.S. troop withdrawals in 2014 and 2015. Losses among Afghan security forces shot up by nearly 30 percent in those two years. Last September, the Taliban took control of most of the northern city of Kunduz. U.S. commandos set out to help Afghan forces retake it, and American gunships scrambled to support them. In the fog of the ensuing battles, the U.S. accidentally bombarded a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 42 doctors and patients.
Later, as the Taliban continued to rampage through Kunduz and Helmand provinces, America adjusted its rules. In June, the U.S. announced its forces would now be allowed to attack the Taliban proactively.
This has resulted in an anomalous situation: a conventional aerial campaign but with virtually no American forces on the ground to provide reliable intelligence to guide it. The U.S. is now broadly dependent on its Afghan partners and the notoriously limited insights of drones.