Mattis: Trump authorized military to set troop levels in Afghanistan

Donald Trump's hands-off approach gives US military free rein

"The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

In 2009, Obama authorized a surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, bringing the total there to more than 100,000, before drawing down over the rest of his presidency.

While Mattis declined to give an estimate of how many more forces he might send to Afghanistan, he told lawmakers at Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing that he would deliver an Afghan strategy by mid-July. "That meant in the mountain country, these troops were often at a disadvantage, so we change the way we fight, we change the regional construct and we change our approach to the way we deal with this [Afghan] government", Mattis said.

"This ensures the department can facilitate our missions and nimbly align our commitment to the situation on the ground", Mattis said, adding that the essential USA goals in Afghanistan remain unchanged: help Afghan combat forces gain the upper hand on the Taliban, and hunt and kill Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

The Taliban has been making a comeback in recent years.

Some in the Pentagon have complained that the Obama White House's troop management system prevented them from acting quickly, and obscured the true number of troops in the country. Today there are approximately 8,500 USA forces in the country, along with many contractors who provide logistical support for US war fighters. Their deaths came just days after a U.S. Army special forces soldier was also killed in the region.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis blamed the Obama administration Wednesday for the withdrawal of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in 2014 that he said allowed the Taliban to regroup in Afghanistan.

When George W. Bush left office, U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan totaled about 50,000. The U.S. now has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

While the new troops could raise fears of mission creep, Mattis told lawmakers this week he didn't envision returning to the force levels of 2010-11, when Obama thought he could pressure the Taliban into peace talks. "They're not fighting as well as they could if we gave them the kind of air support, more intel support that we could give them", he asserted.

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. Our overall mission Afghanistan remains the same.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon was considering a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising.

The broader regional USA strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear.

As of February, the U.S. military assessed that the Afghan government was in control of or influenced 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts, almost an 11 percent-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

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