Published: Wed, June 28, 2017
National | By Rosalie Gross

Trump gives Pentagon authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan

Trump gives Pentagon authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan

A new strategy for Afghanistan is weeks way, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in a statement that frustrated some lawmakers awaiting a way forward in the United States' longest war.

"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", Mattis added.

Secretary Mattis equated "winning" in Afghanistan with the Afghan government's ability to handle the enemy's level of violence, which he said will require a "residual force" of USA and allied forces to train Afghan troops and maintain high-end capabilities. "And we will correct this as soon as possible".

"I believe by mid-July we will be able to brief you in detail", Mattis said, Stars and Stripes reported.

Mattis, a Trump appointee, placed the blame on Congress for what he considers to be an unprepared American fighting force, observing that short-term budget measures and a current law that limits military spending are placing U.S. troops at risk.

"That is not to say we can't get there as we look for common ground", Mattis told a House Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads United States and worldwide forces in Afghanistan, said he needed "a few thousand" additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S. allies.

The Afghanistan war has been dragging on since October 2001, and the US-led coalition ended their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014 but they are increasingly involved in backing up Afghan forces on the battlefield.

"Congress owes the American people a strategy", the Arizona senator said, adding that the families of three U.S soldiers killed in Afghanistan last weekend "know we don't have a strategy now".

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The US media interpreted this as a reference to earlier US claims that the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network, were still using sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to launch attacks in Afghanistan. The U.S. contingent is now split between conducting counterterror operations alongside Afghan commandos, and providing assistance to the Afghan military. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and coalition allies have a total of about 5,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Mattis's latest assessment comes almost 16 years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and amid a war that continues to claim the lives of U.S. troops each year-and those of thousands of local forces and civilians.

McCain said he's a great admirer of Mattis, "but we just can't keep going like this".

Currently, there are about 8,400 American troops deployed in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan military in its fight against the Taliban and the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan. "It makes it hard for us to support you when we don't have a strategy", continued McCain.

The U.S. already spends more on defense than any other country in the world - by a lot.

While Mattis said he did not anticipate the Russians' move at Tanf, it did not surprise the DOD analysts.

His testimony arrived one day after the Pentagon identified three American soldiers who were killed by an Afghan soldier in the country's eastern region on Saturday.

"It took us years to get into this situation", said Mattis.

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