Senior national security officials implored President Donald Trump to grant the Pentagon authority to raise troop levels in Afghanistan Tuesday to stave off potential disaster in America’s longest war, Bloomberg reports.
Trump granted the request Tuesday, which allows Secretary of Defense James Mattis to set U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis is likely to increase force levels by at least 3,000 troops, which both commanders in the charge of the war have indicated they believe is necessary.
The defense secretary indicated troop levels would not immediately be raised and that a new strategy would be announced in the near future which would restore the “high ground.” Any additional troops are likely to more actively support the Afghan National Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban and ISIS.
“We’re talking now about putting what we call NATO air support, down at the brigade level, so when they are in contact, the high ground is now going to be owned by the Afghans. It’s a fundamental change to how we bring our … real superiority in terms of air support to help them. In other words, we’re not talking about putting our troops on the front line,” Mattis explained Tuesday.
Mattis admitted to Congress Tuesday that the U.S. is “not winning” in Afghanistan where Taliban insurgents have gained more ground than ever before. Mattis cast blame on the Obama administration for ending the U.S. combat mission in 2014, significantly reducing troop levels, and putting greater responsibility on the Afghan National Security Forces.
“I believe that we pulled out forces at a time, as you know, when the violence was lower, but we pulled them out on a timeline rather than consistent with the maturation of the government and the security forces,” he declared Wednesday. “I believe that we pulled out forces at a time, as you know, when the violence was lower, but we pulled them out on a timeline rather than consistent with the maturation of the government and the security forces,” He continued.
The marginal troop increase is unlikely to be accompanied by any radical departure from the long-standing U.S. mission in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan government against the Taliban and ISIS. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer essentially parroted this thinking in a June 6 press briefing saying victory in Afghanistan would entail a “stable government” and “us free from threats” of terrorism.
The Afghan government, however, is beset by pervasive corruption and its fighting force is experiencing devastating losses. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction noted in late April that the security force’s casualties continue to be “shockingly high.” The report highlighted 807 Afghan troops were killed in just the first six weeks of 2017, and that nearly 35 percent of the force chooses not to re-enlist each year.
The report continued that Afghan forces face “many problems: unsustainable casualties, temporary losses of provincial and district centers, weakness in logistics and other functions, illiteracy in the ranks, often corrupt or ineffective leadership, and over-reliance on highly trained special forces for routine missions.”
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