Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford announced to the Senate Armed Services Committee the implementation of changes to the Rules of Engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan. President Trump has provided Secretary Mattis the latitude to reconsider the ROE and alter as needed. He has done just that.

America’s Patron Saint of Warfare specified at least two changes. First, the proximity requirement for the use of air power is no longer in effect. Second, Afghan units closer to the forward line of troops will have U.S. advisors. This makes U.S. air support an option for them, as a U.S. adviser is required to make the call.

Proximity Requirements

Previously, Taliban and other enemy forces needed to be near U.S. or U.S.-advised forces to leverage the United States’ air power. “We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces,” Secretary Mattis said. “it used to be we have to basically be in contact with the enemy.” This change allows the United States and our NATO partners to “reach out and touch” the enemy in Afghanistan wherever they may be:

“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.”

Advisors to the Front

U.S. advisors have typically only worked with Afghan units at the highest levels. This decision was intended to ensure that Afghan government took a more significant role in securing their destiny, and the United States remained in an advisory position. This, however, led to an unfortunate side effect.  U.S. advisers are required to call in U.S. air support. Without advisors at the brigade or battalion level, Afghan troops in contact with the enemy were not receiving U.S. air support.

General Dunford put it plainly. He stated that 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.” Now that Afghan forces can, through U.S. advisers, utilize air support, they can more effectively fight Taliban forces and reclaim their homeland from extremists.

New Strategy. New Results?

The change in ROE comes part and parcel with the Pentagon’s new strategy in Afghanistan. Secretary Mattis described it to the Armed Services Committee as “R4+S.” The acronym, which stands for “regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile, and sustain,” marks an attempt to remedy the errors of the Obama administration policies and lightning fast drawdown.

The shifting of U.S. advisers falls into the “realign” portion of the strategy and is likely to go hand in hand with “reinforce,” which will see more than 3,000 American troops heading to Afghanistan and the potential increase of NATO forces. In short, the strategy hopes to get the rest of the region, including Pakistan and India, involved (Regionalize), push U.S. advisers to the brigade and battalion level (Realign), reinforce the effort with more troops (Reinforce), force the Taliban to the bargaining table (Reconcile), and work to keep forward momentum of progress (Sustain).

While the Media give Secretary Mattis the name “MadDog,” his actual call sign was Chaos. This originated as an acronym for, “Colonel Has Another Outstanding Solution.” Will the ROE and strategy shift do the trick, or is this another case of military leadership succumbing to the siren call of the “Good Idea Fairy?” Tell us what you think in the comments.


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Military Affairs Correspondent