Secretary of Defense James Mattis confirmed Wednesday that President Donald Trump has given him the authority to make decisions about how many USA troops are deployed to Afghanistan without first having to get formal agreement from the White House.
The US now has some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.
Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster briefed Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain and Graham Wednesday on the new plan for the fight in Afghanistan.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mattis testified at a US Senate hearing and said senior officials were outlining a new US strategy for Afghanistan.
“Together in the interagency, we will define the way ahead and I will set the USA military commitment consistent with the commander-in-chief’s strategic direction and the foreign policy as dictated by secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson”, Mattis said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) told top Pentagon officials Tuesday their lack of coherent strategies is making it hard to argue for a larger military budget.
“We’d consider issues from India and Pakistan, all the way over to Iran, because those are the bordering nations and ignoring those means you put in a strategy that has not taken into account some of the most fundamental factors that would impact on its success or failure”, Mattis said, under questioning from Sen. The Trump administration is reportedly considering increasing that number by up to 5,000. In February, Gen. John Nicholson-commander of USA forces in Afghanistan-told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the situation in that country could be described as a “stalemate”.
Defense Department officials portrayed the return of Pentagon control over Iraq and Syria troop levels as giving military commanders more flexibility and better management of their operations.
Joseph Dunford, speaks as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and David Norquist, listen during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 12, 2017, in Washington. He said the Taleban was surging throughout the country, and he planned to present lawmakers with a strategy for the US’ longest running war by mid-July.
Part of the reason for a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan was that global support was reduced too soon, he said.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed and another wounded Saturday when they were attacked by an Afghan soldier, who was killed.
The broader regional United States strategy for Afghanistan remains unclear.
The Taliban has been making a comeback in recent years. He contrasted that to the troop levels and restrictions imposed under President Barack Obama.
Nicholson has also cautioned Congress that more U.S. forces may be needed to counter growing outside influence in Afghanistan – from Russian Federation in particular.
And the New York Times reports President Trump has given Mattis the authority to determine how many more troops he needs.