JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- Single soldiers and civilians working for the U.S. military in Afghanistan can now have sex legally. Sort of.
A new order signed by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, has lifted a ban on sexual relations between unmarried men and women in the combat zone.
General Order No. 1 outlines a number of prohibited activities and standards of conduct for U.S. troops and civilians working for the military in Afghanistan. Previously, under the regulation, sexual relations and "intimate behavior" between men and women not married to each other were a strict no-no. The regulation also barred members of the opposite sex from going into each other's living quarters unless they were married to each other.
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But the latest version of General Order No. 1 for Afghanistan, which Schloesser signed April 19, eases those restrictions.
The new regulation warns that sex in a combat zone "can have an adverse impact on unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline."
But sexual relations and physical intimacy between men and women not married to each other are no longer banned outright. They're only "highly discouraged," and that's as long as they're "not otherwise prohibited" by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to the new order.
Single men and women can now also visit each other's living quarters, as long as everyone else who lives there agrees, and as long as visitors of the opposite sex remain in the open "and not behind closed doors, partitions or other isolated or segregated areas," according to the new regulation.
Unmarried men and women who are alone together in living quarters must leave the door open, according to the new policy.
Men and women "will not cohabit with, reside or sleep with members of the opposite gender in living spaces of any kind," unless they are married or if it's necessary for military reasons, the new policy states.
A cursory reading of the order would seem to suggest that unmarried men and women could have sex in their living quarters, as long as all other persons who live there agree, or if they left the door open, if they were otherwise alone. But that's not the case, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force-101.
"Sex in both scenarios … would be a chargeable offense under the UCMJ," Nielson-Green said, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
Nielson-Green said the policy change was "not significant on a practical level" since it simply aligns General Order No. 1 in Afghanistan with similar policies in the region. Neither U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor Multi-National Forces-Iraq bar sexual relations between unmarried men and women in their version of the order, she said.
"The expectation is that troops should behave professionally and responsibly at all times," Nielson-Green said, adding that while the new regulation does not condone sex, it "does recognize that such behaviors happen, and if they result in any chargeable offenses, then appropriate actions will be pursued."
"The bottom line is that the troops are responsible for their own behavior," Nielson-Green said. She declined to "speculate" on the conditions under which soldiers could engage in legal sexual behavior.
The UCMJ contains several provisions under which sexual relations are prohibited between men and women. For instance, married persons cannot engage legally in sex with anyone other than their spouse, or they can be prosecuted for adultery. Sexual relations between subordinates and higher-ranking personnel are prohibited within the same chain of command. Sexual relations between officers and enlisted personnel are generally prohibited as well. Homosexual relations are completely prohibited under the code.
Nielson-Green said the new policy does allow commanders to make the provision on sex more restrictive, as long as they have approval from the CJTF-101 commander.
In eastern Afghanistan, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is nearing the end of its 15-month deployment, won approval to stick with the old policy that bans sexual relations between unmarried soldiers.
Maj. Will Helixon, the brigade judge advocate, said the issue was basically one of fairness.
"After we've treated the soldiers this way for a year, it's not really right to change," said Helixon said. "That's the bottom line."
According to Helixon's staff, 28 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been punished for having sex in Afghanistan or for violating the no-entry rule in the past year. Those punishments ranged from letters of reprimand to field-grade Article 15s.
At Forward Operating Base Fenty, near Jalalabad, the reaction of soldiers to the lifting of the sex ban was mixed. Some soldiers declined to comment. Others said they were married, so the change would not affect them. Some thought it simply create more problems. "I think it's a bad idea," said Pfc. Shane Inman, 30, of Fort Dodge, Iowa. "I think there's going to be a lot more pregnancies going around. Not that there already isn't. But at least they won't get in trouble for it."