Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

Pentagon to get authority for Afghanistan troop levels

Francis Olson | 14 June, 2017, 07:21

The Pentagon is expected to soon announce that Defense Secretary James Mattis will now have authority to make decisions about how many USA troops are deployed to Afghanistan without first having to get formal agreement from the White House, according to a United States official familiar with the plan.

It's not immediately clear how the decision will impact force levels, and the White House and the Pentagon have not officially commented on the policy.

Mattis' remarks came months after the Trump administration promised a new strategy for the conflict, and weeks after press reports circulated quoting unnamed USA officials as saying a troop surge and widening military authorities were both under debate. Trump gave Mattis similar authority in Iraq and Syria.

The official said the final decision to give Mattis the power to adjust troop levels actually came during his testimony, at which he said America still is "not winning" in Afghanistan.

Currently, the US has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan.

USA military commanders, who saw fragile security gains eroded under Obama-era troop drawdowns, have been pushing for a new strategy that could see thousands of additional soldiers deploy to Afghanistan to help train and advise beleaguered Afghan partners.

The head of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, and the head of the U.S. military command overseeing the Middle East, Gen. Joseph Votel, have endorsed the deployment of "several thousand" additional North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops to train Afghan security forces and break the conflict from a state of "stalemate".

US Army General John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said recently that several thousand troops should be added to the roughly 8,400 already stationed in the war-ravaged country to support the Afghan security forces against Taliban militants.

"We recognize the need for urgency", Mattis replied, who told lawmakers he is now crafting a new military strategy that he will reveal by mid-July.

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There are diminishing returns, to be sure, but so far it looks like Wonder Woman certainly isn't among them. She added: "Then I realised that " Wonder Woman 2" is its own great movie".

Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced his "palpable" frustration.

"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now", said Mattis here at a congressional hearing.

McCain rued that despite all the sacrifices made by USA soldiers, Afghanistan is still a nation at war.

Mattis acknowledged the reality on the ground.

He added: "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. We will correct this as soon as possible", he said.

Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, over 2,300 American troops have lost their lives, with another 17,000 wounded.

McCain, however, listed the names of the three 101st Airborne Division soldiers who were killed Saturday and said, "Let's not ask these families to sacrifice any further without a strategy which we can then take and implement and help you".

A truck bombing in the heart of the capital Kabul killed more than 150 people on May 31.

USA 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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