Back in August, President Donald Trump pledged to lift the restrictions and expand the authorities for US troops in Afghanistan in a move to break the stalemate in the sixteen-year long war. And now Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has overturned a stipulation in the rules of engagement that US troops must be in contact with enemy forces before opening fire.

“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. “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.”

Mattis also confirmed the changes at a later hearing, saying, “We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces. It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy.”

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

The move easing the requirement of being in close proximity to the enemy as well as pushing the U.S. advisers down to lower level Afghan units is seen as a small but important step in breaking the stalemate with the Taliban who still control large areas of the country.

Mattis was quick to point out however, that these changes do not mean an increase in Afghan civilian targeting stating that U.S. forces will do everything “humanly possible” to avoid civilian casualties.

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Photo courtesy Department of Defense