Saturday, October 07, 2017

Mattis Discloses Part of Afghanistan Battle Plan, but It Hasn’t Yet Been Carried Out - nytimes

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, normally reluctant to speak publicly about American troops deployed around the globe, took a different tack this week on Capitol Hill.

Pressed by lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, about the Pentagon’s failure to provide more details about the Afghanistan war plan, Mr. Mattis divulged new information about more aggressive rules of engagement there.

But the changes he described have yet to be issued as orders to troops in the field, according to American service members and officials in Afghanistan. With the new rules caught in bureaucratic limbo, Mr. Mattis effectively telegraphed the military’s plans to the Taliban before they could be put into action.

Why Mr. Mattis chose to publicly discuss the rules of engagement — parameters that are classified to ensure the enemy cannot take advantage of their limitations — is unclear. The Pentagon did not deny that the changes had yet to go into effect, but a spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, said he strongly disagreed “that the secretary said anything in public that would place forces on the ground at risk, or help the enemy.”

Mr. Mattis’s decision to talk about the secretive guidelines highlights the difficult position he is in: wedged between lawmakers’ demands for more transparency while trying to articulate how the United States is committed to the country’s longest-running war, one the public has largely dismissed.

The disclosure signaled to Taliban fighters that some of their well-established sanctuaries are no longer safe and that they will need to change how they move around the battlefield to avoid American bombs. It also takes away the element of surprise, a core aspect of any battle plan.

Battlefield commanders in Afghanistan have long publicly discussed the need to take more aggressive measures as the Taliban have gained ground since the American troop drawdown in 2014. But current and retired military officers expressed surprise that Mr. Mattis, himself a retired Marine field commander, went so far.

“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,” Mr. Mattis said on Tuesday in front of 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.” - More

Mattis Discloses Part of Afghanistan Battle Plan, but It Hasn't Yet Been


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