Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrived in Afghanistan the same day the Afghan minister of defense quit. The visit also comes three days after Afghan Defense Forces suffered their biggest single day loss of life in the entire war.
Afghan Minister of Defense Abdullah Habibi resigned Monday along with chief of staff of the Afghan armed services Qadam Shah Shahim. Their resignations follow a devastating Taliban attack that killed 140 Afghan soldiers on a base in a matter of hours Friday. The attack killed so many soldiers the base ran out of coffins.
Mattis’s surprise stop in the country comes after his tour of several Middle Eastern-allied nations. Mattis was looking to sell the Trump administration’s plan to defeat the Islamic State. Afghanistan has ISIS elements, but more worrisome is a resilient Taliban insurgency that controls more territory than any time since 2001. The security situation has deteriorated to the point where the Taliban now threatens major provincial capitals.
The Afghan Security Forces are in the fight of their lives with the insurgent group, losing thousands of soldiers per year since NATO ended its combat mission in 2o14. The U.S. has spent tens of billions training the Afghan forces, but the latest U.S. government audit reveals that “the Afghan government cannot survive without continued donor financial assistance.”
Mattis’s visit is the second high profile visit of a Trump administration official to Afghanistan after National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster visited the country April 16. Mattis will also likely discuss increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan — something both commanders in charge of the Afghan war have indicated they want.
The U.S. currently has approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, largely engaged in training the Afghan Security Forces. The U.S. also provides limited air support for the defense forces and frequently conducts drone strikes on ISIS elements inside the country.
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