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.