Mattis Given Authority to Set Troop Levels in Afghanistan


The decision from the White House comes the same day Mattis told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee that "we are not winning" in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday dismissed chances of a return to the major USA troop deployments to Afghanistan that characterized the early years of the Obama administration, a day after the White House gave him power to set troop levels.

The US official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely, said the move is similar to the April decision that gave the Pentagon more authority to set troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

"This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past", he said. We will present this to the President in the coming weeks.

"Yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), the president directed the Department of Defense to set troop levels in Afghanistan".

Asked whether he expected to hike USA troop levels, now at about 8,400 in Afghanistan, to anywhere near America's 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops, Mattis said: "No, sir, I do not".

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Mattis said the delegation of authority does not necessarily mean the US military footprint will increase, arguing it gives the Pentagon needed flexibility in adjusting to battlefield conditions. If sent, the forces would help the fledgling Afghan military regain portions of the country that have fallen to the Taliban since United States forces ended their combat mission there in 2014.

"We can not allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies", Mr Mattis said.

Some US officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security.

"This will enable our military to have greater agility to conduct operations, recognizing our military posture there is part of a broader regional context".

The war has killed over 2,300 American soldiers and wounded over 17,000 others.

The number of troops in Afghanistan was capped at around 8,400 under President Barack Obama - a significant drop from the 100,000 he deployed in 2011.

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He said it had been "incredibly emotional working in there", adding: "On Saturday I went in myself and went to the top floor". However, there was unhappiness that the Prime Minister's visit to victims came more than 48 hours after the disaster.

It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads USA and global forces in Afghanistan, said he needed "a few thousand" additional forces, some potentially drawn from US allies.

Mr Mattis told the Armed Services Committee he hoped to brief them on a new plan by mid-July.

On Saturday, three United States soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

"It's going to be an era of frequent skirmishing, and it's going to require a change in our approach from the last several years if we're to get it to that position, " Mattis said.

The United States is making progress in defeating the insurgents in Afghanistan, according to Mattis.

He went on to say this decision was part of a broader strategy the U.S is developing that addresses its role in Afghanistan and beyond.

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