The Pentagon’s likely forthcoming decision to send a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan may not be enough to turn the tide of the increasingly deteriorating war.
President Donald Trump granted Secretary of Defense James Mattis authority Tuesday to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis is likely to approve the request of both commanders in charge of the Afghan war, who have publicly testified before Congress that they believe a “few thousand” more troops are necessary to break the current stalemate.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan focuses on training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in the fight against the Taliban. Both the U.S. and Afghan goal is to tire the Taliban and force it reconcile with the government. Mattis stressed before Congress that any troop increase would be paired with a broader regional strategy to bolster the reconciliation effort. The strategy has yet to be unveiled, and it may not come with the expected troop increase announcement.
Mattis’s testimony largely highlighted the tactical advantage the new troops would give ANSF in the fight against the Taliban but did not touch on its role in a broader strategy.
“These are going to be people specifically designed, trained and organized and equipped to go in and advise them (ANSF) how you take the hill, get them the air support and artillery support and rocket support that will enable them,” Mattis said of any new troops headed to the country before the House Armed Services Committee.
The Taliban, however, have little reason to negotiate. The insurgent group controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and it contests ANSF on multiple fronts spanning hundreds of miles. The group’s success is bolstered by pervasive corruption and casualties within the Afghan forces.
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 stated that 807 Afghan troops were killed in the first six weeks of 2017 and nearly 35 percent of the force chooses not to re-enlist each year.
The report established 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.”
“The 3,000 to 5,000 may prevent a near-term backsliding, but it is not going to be decisive in turning the tide of this war,” Chief Executive Officer of the Center for New American Security Michèle Flournoy told The New York Times.
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