DoD Setting Troop Levels in Afghanistan Enables Agility, Mattis Says

Thousands more troops going back to Afghanistan could still be a tough sell for Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform and a pledge to reduce U.S. adventurism overseas. Bush approved the surge of forces to Iraq as part of a population-centric counterinsurgency war plan. The Obama White House, by contrast, took a much more hands-on approach where the National Security Council would often be directly involved in operational matters.

For Donald Trump it's different. General John Nicholson, the top USA commander in Afghanistan, said earlier this year that he needs "a few thousand" more troops in the fight against Isis, the Taliban, and other militant groups. If sent, the forces would help the fledgling Afghan military regain portions of the country that have fallen to the Taliban since U.S. forces ended their combat mission there in 2014.

Nonetheless, Trump has yet to sign off on it. Administration officials tell me he has been wary of getting sucked into a quagmire.

Though Trump has said little about Afghanistan, this week he gave Mattis authority to set troop numbers there at whatever level he sees fit, a decision finalized as the Pentagon chief told lawmakers America is still "not winning" against the Taliban.

United States troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, who mainly serve in a training and advisory capacity.

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On Tuesday Trump relented.

With the new authority, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis could authorize deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan, something commanders on the ground there have been requesting for months.

The New York Times first reported the policy decision, and Mattis confirmed this on Wednesday. The Afghan government has been slowly losing the fight with the Taliban since 2015.

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. The dire situation was brought home over the weekend when the Taliban claimed credit for infiltrating an Afghan unit and killing three USA soldiers in Nangarhar province.

"This decision is part of a broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond". While no number for a troop increase has been agreed, the fact that Trump has accepted that he will be sending more US forces to the country represents a change for the president, who campaigned against nation-building.

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Earlier, Mr Mattis told lawmakers that he would present Mr Trump with a new United States military strategy for Afghanistan by mid-July.

Some lawmakers are growing impatient.

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. We know what the strategy was for the last eight years - don't lose.

Mattis said the Taliban were "surging" at the moment, something he said he meant to address.

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