Pentagon sees more 'agility' with new power on Afghan troops levels

Posted June 15, 2017

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that he will present to the White House a new Afghanistan strategy within weeks, including setting new troop levels. "The delegation of this authority - consistent with the authority President Trump granted me two months ago for Iraq and Syria - does not, at this time, change the troop numbers for Afghanistan".

During Wednesday's hearing, Mattis laid some of the blame for the current situation in Afghanistan on Obama's timeline, noting that pulling forces at a predetermined pace only emboldened the Taliban and strained a government and military that wasn't ready to fight without US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation support.

In the short term, Mr Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said extra United States troops sent to the country would provide more fire and air support to the Afghans. "I would refer you to Secretary Mattis at this point", White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.

Hours later, Mattis issued a written statement that provided no further details on Trump's decision but said counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan are "making progress in degrading" groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

Trump has said very little about his intentions in Afghanistan.

Trump came into office saying he meant to give his generals more leeway, and Mattis has said the new authority will help him improve management of the war.

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American military commanders in Afghanistan and the surrounding region have requested thousands of additional boots on the ground for months to boost the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troop presence there. We are there to help defeat a common enemy and ensure Afghan forces can safeguard the future of their country. Throughout his tenure, Obama's White House reviewed even small changes in USA troop levels in Afghanistan.

This sets the stage for United States commanders to begin sending more forces to Afghanistan, after years of reductions made in the hope that Kabul could handle internal threats on its own.

"This decision is part of a broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond". That decision, however, has been stalled by the broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to contribute more troops.

Currently, there are about 8,400 USA troops and another 5,000 forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the ground in Afghanistan to train and assist the Afghan forces against the Taliban, and conduct counter-terrorism missions.

Mattis later described winning in Afghanistan as forming a central government that, with global help, "will be able to handle the violence".

The Pentagon had considered a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising. The increased fight has led to a recent string of American deaths.