In a set of appearances on Capitol Hill this week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced a major rules-of-engagement change in Afghanistan that allows American troops to open fire on the enemy without being in direct contact with them, the Military Times reported.
Mattis made the announcement in testimony before the Armed Services Committees in both the Senate and the House. Appearing alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, Mattis confirmed that the White House had given him free reign to reconsider the rules of engagement against the Taliban and other militant organizations in Afghanistan.
Defense News noted that “many top officials in Washington have advocated for a loosening of the rules of engagement that dictate how troops conduct combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.”
“You see some of the results of releasing our military from, for example, a proximity requirement — how close was the enemy to the Afghan or the U.S.-advised special forces,” Mattis said during his appearance before the Senate.
“That is no longer the case, for example. So these kind of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the airpower fully have been removed, yes.”
“We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” he added in front of the House. “It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”
“If they are in an assembly area, a training camp, we know they are an enemy and they are going to threaten the Afghan government or our people, (Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan) has the wherewithal to make that decision.”
And that, Mattis said, changes everything.
“Wherever we find them, anyone who is trying to throw the NATO plan off, trying to attack the Afghan government, then we can go after them,” he added.
As Task & Purpose noted, rules of engagement under the Obama administration were notoriously strict due to the administration’s belief that reducing collateral damage was critical to winning the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. The Trump administration has gone the other way, with the president promising to “expand authorities for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.”
If Tuesday was any indication, they’re certainly more than prepared to do that.
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