During an appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced a change to the rules of engagement regarding specific overseas operations, stating that military personnel will no longer be required to be within the previously mandated proximity to enemy forces before opening fire, allowing them to increase the speed of battle while combating the Taliban.
As reported by the Military Times, the US military was previously bound by the restrictions that required them to be in contact with enemy forces before they were able to open fire when operating in Afghanistan. The announcement, made alongside Gen. Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, demonstrates a significant shift in policy applicable to combat operations in the country.
Multiple top officials in Washington have previously advocated for a loosening of the restrictions listed in the rules of engagement. The policies dictate how military personnel can conduct combat operations in numerous countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
The change could allow the US Armed Forces to act more quickly in an effort to defeat terrorist organizations in Afghanistan.
The rules of engagement are considered classified, so the content of the policies is rarely discussed openly.
However, there were indications that adjustments were forthcoming, particularly in President Donald Trump’s speech on August 21, where he announced his new strategy for Afghanistan. Trump stated he intended to “lift restrictions and expand authorities” for military personnel operating in the region.
During his speech, Trump said, “We will also expand authorities for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.”
Mattis is exercising his authority to reconsider various portions of the rules of engagement. So far, this includes removing the proximity requirements that applied to strikes against the Taliban and the spreading out of advisers, both from the US and allied nations, to lower-level units in Afghanistan.
“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 US-advised special forces?” Mattis said while addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“That is no longer the case, for example. So, these kind of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the air power fully have been removed, yes.”
While speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis said, “We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” continuing, “It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”
Mattis 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.”