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Mattis Relaxes Rules Of Engagement In Afghanistan

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Defense Secretary James Mattis announced on Oct. 3 that he has relaxed the rules of engagement for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Mattis made the statement at an appearance on Capitol Hill with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, the Military Times reported.

The move is in line with President Donald Trump's August speech on military policy in Afghanistan. Trump stated that he would "lift restrictions and expand authorities" so that the military could engage the Taliban and other opponents of the Afghan government more effectively.

Opponents of the decision point out that more civilian lives will be put at risk, according to Sputnik.

The first restriction Mattis lifted was the requirement that U.S. forces must be close to the enemy before they could open fire.

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"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," said Mattis, according to the Military Times. "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."

The decision on whether to strike targets has been delegated to the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"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," added Mattis.

Another major change will result in U.S. and NATO advisers working with the Afghan army at a lower level. Whereas in the past the advisers operated at the command center, they will now be deployed at the brigade and battalion level.

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"Those units with NATO and American advisers win, and those without them often do not win," added Mattis. "So we are going to spread the number of units with advisers to bring that air support to win."

Dunford explained that U.S. 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. That has, and it will, make us more effective."

When Mattis visited the country on Sept. 27, a U.S. airstrike in a district of the capital, Kabul, led to six civilian injuries.

"U.S. troops dropped bombs on a residential area," Kabul resident Mohammed Amin told Al Jazeera. "How can they say it was mistake? We understand one time, two times, but not forever! They kill us, civilians, and call it a mistake all the time."

In 2015, a U.S. airstrike destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, killing at least 40 people. In July, 2017, 16 police officers died in Helmand City in a U.S. airstrike.

Sources: Military Times, Sputnik International, Al Jazeera / Featured Image: D. Myles Cullen/DoD/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/DoD/Wikimedia Commons, Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/DoD/Wikimedia Commons

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