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Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has changed the rules of engagement for those deployed in Afghanistan, no longer requiring that troops must be in contact with the enemy before opening fire. This is a welcome change within the Afghan theater, as troops will now have more opportunities to aggressively take the fight to the enemy. Part of this change will also include the dispersing of more U.S. and allied advisers to lower-level Afghan units.
The new changes were addressed during this week’s congressional hearing, where Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford stated the White House had given authorized the chance to revise the current rules of engagement, updating them to the necessary tempo needed for fighting the Taliban. While the rules of engagement are officially classified, those in country can now be expected to take faster action when combatting terrorist forces.
“We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” Mattis state. “It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”
Addressing the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis also clarified “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.” He said that more units will now have advisors for obtaining air support, describing this change as “now being able to bring this fire support to bear where we could not [before], whether it be for proximity or [because] we were not with those units.”
Changes were expected, mainly because in recent years, senior Washington officials have pushed for less restrictive ROEs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. President Donald Trump said he planned to ”lift restrictions and expand authorities” during last month’s Afghanistan strategy speech.
While the improvement opens new doors for combatting the enemy in Afghanistan, Mattis made clear that U.S. forces would continue to do everything “humanly possible” to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage.