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Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Afghanistan Troop Levels

15 June 2017

After 16 years and no convincing plan to finally eliminate all internal discord in sight, President Donald Trump will be giving the Pentagon free rein to add more troops to the U.S.'s ill-defined efforts in Afghanistan, reports the Washington Post and The Hill today.

"The White House has done the same that it did with Iraq and Syria, which is to grant the secretary of defense the authority to set troop levels", the official said, referring to recent adjustments Trump has approved for the fight against the Islamic State group in those two countries.

In testimony before a Senate panel, Mattis said the decision does not mean USA troop levels will change immediately.

The U.S. now has almost 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, mostly operating in a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces for combat and a U.S. -led mission to fight terror groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS. Mattis told McCain a strategy would be presented by the middle of July.

"I would say that the reason we have not been attacked over many years from where the 9/11 attack originated is heavily due to the sacrifices that we have made over years as we have kept the enemy on the back foot", Mattis said.

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.

He added: "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now".

Roughly 8,400 USA troops are already serving in Afghanistan.

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Forced from power after USA troops invaded in October 2001, the Taliban have been resurgent, increasing their hold on numerous areas of the country and inflicting heavy losses of Afghan security forces.

The fight in Afghanistan remains important, the secretary said, noting that Afghanistan was the staging ground for the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001.

When Obama announced that he was sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan during a speech at West Point in 2009, his decision making process had included reviews from both Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the head of USA forces in Afghanistan, and the White House.

Later, Mattis said he could imagine the USA helping train Afghan security forces "years from now", even after the country is stabilized.

Mattis said in testimony Tuesday that the strategy is being developed in a broader context that includes Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, as well as India.

Army General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress that he could use an infusion of United States and allied troops to bolster support for the Afghan army.

Some critics see delegation of troop level decisions as a way for Trump to abdicate responsibility for decisions on America's longest war, one that has cost the lives of more than 2,000 troops.

The Pentagon had considered a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising.

Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Afghanistan Troop Levels