Mattis reveals new rules of engagement
By: Aaron Mehta ? 3 October 2017
WASHINGTON – U.S. forces are no longer bound by requirements to be in
contact with enemy forces in Afghanistan before opening fire, thanks to a
change in rules of engagement orchestrated by Secretary of Defense Jim
Mattis, appearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday alongside Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford told a pair of congressional hearings that
the White House gave him a free hand to reconsider the rules of engagement
and alter them to speed the battle against the Taliban if need be.
Over the last several years, 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.
Changes could allow the U.S. military to move more quickly to defeat
terrorist organizations. Rules of engagement are classified, and military
officials generally do not discuss them.
However, there were signs that changes to those rules of engagement were
coming. In his Aug. 21 speech announcing his Afghianstan strategy, President
Donald Trump said he would ”lift restrictions and expand authorities” for
”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 at the time.
Mattis has taken that freedom and implemented at least two changes: The
removal of proximity requirements for strikes against Taliban forces, and
the spreading out of U.S. and allied advisors to lower-level Afghan units.
“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 told the Senate Armed Services
Committee in the morning.
“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,” Mattis
told the House Armed Services Committee in the afternoon. “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,” he added.
“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,” Mattis
The second change involves, essentially, dispersing U.S. advisers among the
Afghan units that are closer to the enemy forces.
“Those units with NATO and American advisers win, and those without them
often do not win,” Mattis said. “So we are going to spread the number of
units with advisers to bring that air support to win.”
Asked to expand on that, Mattis described the 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.
Previously, U.S. forces were only working alongside Afghans at the highest
headquarters level, Dunford said, not down at the brigade or battalion level
where the “decisive action” is occurring. That is important, because U.S.
air support requires U.S. advisers to call them in.
Air power “wasn’t being delivered to those Afghan units most relevant in the
fight because we didn’t [previously] have the authority to put advisers down
in that level of the fight,” Dunford added. “That has, and it will, make us
However, the secretary was quick to stress that the U.S. would still do
everything “humanly possible” to avoid civilian deaths, especially given the
history of groups like the Taliban and Islamic State group hiding among