BERLIN, July 28 (UPI) -- The German Defense Ministry has changed the rules for its troops in Afghanistan, allowing them to attack Taliban insurgents pre-emptively.
The strategy change comes shortly after some 300 German elite combat soldiers, in cooperation with 900 Afghan troops, launched the Bundeswehr's biggest military offensive against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, where security has deteriorated over the past two years.
The ministry updated the rule book -- the so-called pocket card -- it hands out to its soldiers. It stipulates how troops should behave in the field.
Germany has relatively strict rules of engagement for its Afghanistan mission. Instructions on the pocket card previously stated that soldiers aren't allowed to hunt down and take out fleeing Taliban members and that they have to warn potential enemy fighters in the Afghan language before opening fire.
German military experts criticized those rules, saying they don't provide soldiers with the necessary authority to defend themselves in dangerous situations.
The German Defense Ministry seems to buy into that argument now -- especially as Germans are taking part in a military offensive against the Taliban.
The new pocket card allows soldiers to attack fleeing Taliban or those who are preparing an attack. A warning shot is sufficient to warn approaching fighters and German troops will, for the first time, be able to fire mortar grenades and use heavy attack vehicles in northern Afghanistan.
Observers say the new rules of engagement come in response to changed Taliban tactics. German military officials say the insurgents, formerly relying on roadside bombs or hidden attacks, are waging full-on military-style attacks. The German base near Kunduz, and German patrols cruising the area are attacked frequently.
"Now is the time to deal with the escalation," Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Germany's top military official, said in a news conference last week.
About 300 German soldiers are attacking Taliban positions with orders to use the entire force spectrum, the Rheinische Post newspaper reported, relying on information from an unnamed German soldier. "We are using everything we have," the soldier is quoted as saying. The German offensive troops are also equipped with heavy artillery including Marder armored tanks and mortars.
The German-backed offensive is aimed at driving out the Taliban and stabilizing the region before Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential elections.
Germany has nearly 4,000 troops stationed with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. At home, polls indicate that a slightly higher percentage of Germans questioned said they are in favor of ending the German contribution to the ISAF mission.