Secretary of Defense James Mattis has changed the rules of engagement in Afghanistan, in effect unleashing troops to fire on the Taliban without first having to be in physical contact.
Mattis said Tuesday at hearings before the House and Senate that the White House had given him new authority to change the rules of engagement, which he has already made use of by letting U.S. troops fire on the Taliban regardless of physical proximity, Military Times reports.
Such a change is not entirely unexpected, as President Donald Trump said in an Aug. 21 speech that he would “expand authorities” for U.S. troops in the region, though at the time he didn’t elaborate on what precisely that would look like.
“We will also expand authorities for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan,” Trump said during that speech.
Now, Mattis has decided to modify physical proximity rules and also let U.S. troops advise low-level units of the Afghan military.
“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 Tuesday morning before the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
“That is no longer the case, for example,” Mattis added. “So these kind of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the airpower fully have been removed, yes.”
U.S. forces in Afghanistan have been prohibited from striking the Taliban since 2014, unless Taliban fighters directly threaten U.S. or allied forces, or in the event that the Afghan government is about to lose a major city, according to a 2016 Wall Street Journal piece. This created a complicated legal and political situation, which frustrated troops on the ground, but the Trump administration’s new Afghanistan strategy has prompted Mattis to give a much wider latitude to troops to go after the Taliban.
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