Mattis loosens rules of engagement for US troops fighting in Afghanistan

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced that as part of his Afghanistan strategy, warfighters would see restrictions lifted and authorities expanded. Now, there is a sense of just what he meant in his Aug. 21 speech.

According to multiple reports, Taliban forces no longer have to be engaged with American units or with Afghan units being advised by Americans to be hit with air strikes.

Looser rules of engagement have long been advocated by a number of officials.

A member of an Afghan and coalition security force patrols during an operation in Khugyani district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013. The security force detained a Taliban leader who had command and control of a cell of Afghan enemy fighters active in Khugyani district. He and his fighters illegally procured various types of weapons and used them in multiple attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. The security force also seized one AK-47 and a pistol as a result of the operation. (U.S Army photo by Pfc. Elliott N. Banks)

A member of an Afghan and coalition security force patrols during an operation in Khugyani district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013. The security force detained a Taliban leader who had command and control of a cell of Afghan enemy fighters active in Khugyani district. He and his fighters illegally procured various types of weapons and used them in multiple attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. The security force also seized one AK-47 and a pistol as a result of the operation. (U.S Army photo by Pfc. Elliott N. Banks)

“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,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Prior to the change, Taliban forces in training camps and assembly areas were not targeted, in essence creating safe havens. Now, Taliban bases are being hit. In April, prior to Trump’s speech, the United States used the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb to hit a Taliban tunnel complex.

The GBU-43 moments before detonation in a March 11, 2003 test. (USAF photo)

Furthermore, American advisors will now be pushed to battalion and brigade headquarters to get them closer to Afghan units engaged in combat. American aircraft can often only provide close-air support when the units have American advisors.

photo Pvt. Zakery Jenkins, front, with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides security in Mush Kahel village, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, July 23, 2012. Photo by Spc. Andrew Baker.

photo Pvt. Zakery Jenkins, front, with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides security in Mush Kahel village, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, July 23, 2012. (Photo by Spc. Andrew Baker)

“Those units with NATO and American advisers win, and those without them often do not win,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. “So we are going to spread the number of units with advisers to bring that air support to win.”

The Secretary of Defense also noted that the tendency that the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan have shown to hide among civilian populations means that American forces will still need to ensure that they do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties.