Winning the Battle? Trump Administration Wants More Troops and Engagement in Afghanistan

10_04_James Mattis
Mattis said army leaders should be reading books on strategy over situation in North Korea. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has a new plan for the battle in Afghanistan, and he revealed some of it in congressional testimony Tuesday. Among the innovations are changes to battlefield rules, extra troops and a fancy new acronym.

Mattis told a pair of congressional hearings Tuesday night that he had been given freedom by the White House to review the rules of engagement in Afghanistan and to make changes he thought necessary to speed the fight against the Taliban.

The defense secretary has implemented at least two changes, Military Times reported. The first removes the "proximity requirement," that did not allow U.S. forces to engage the enemy unless it was within a particular distance of American troops.

"These kind of restrictions that did not allow us to employ the airpower fully have been removed, yes," Mattis said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, "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," he added. "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, [General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan] has the wherewithal to make that decision. 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."

Meanwhile, the second shift in the rules of engagement allows American advisers to be deployed with Afghan units who are closer to the enemy than before. "Those units with NATO and American advisers win, and those without them often do not win," Mattis said. "So we are going to spread the number of units with advisers to bring that air support to win."

Mattis told the committee that the Trump administration's new Afghanistan strategy could be summarized in a brand new acronym: "R4+S." That stands for "regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile and sustain," he said, according to Defense News.

There are 3,000 new U.S. troops heading to the region, which would cover the "reinforce" bit, while the final "r" covers a push to "reconcile;" bringing non-governmental groups on board and helping them play a role in shaping the country's future, he said

And that final "s?" "Sustain," Mattis said.