New rules of engagement will allow the Air Force to be more “proactive” in striking targets in Afghanistan, outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday. Previously, USAF jets were “restricted to essentially supporting US troops in contact or troops on the ground in trouble, whether they were US or Afghan,” Welsh told defense reporters in Washington, D.C. The new rules allow the Air Force “to use airpower in a … broader way.” Commanders will have the flexibility to “shape the [battlefield] a little more,” by marking areas where there are hotspots of enemies, “identify targets that can be pre-approved that we can go after,” and strike them without waiting for a lengthy process of requests and authorities, Welsh said. That will help because “we don’t have the same number of aircraft in Afghanistan as we used to, and they’re not as widely based, so response times are a little slower. That’s why you’re seeing us use faster airplanes … because they have to cover more ground more quickly.” Welsh said the changes won’t affect USAF’s footprint in Afghanistan. “We have the resources there to do it,” he said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.