Earlier this week, President Trump authorized Defense Secretary James Mattis to make his own determinations about troop levels in Afghanistan, where the local government backed by the U.S. led coalition has been suffering a bloody stalemate against the Taliban for months.
Secretary Mattis testified before Congress on Tuesday that the United States and its allies were “not winning” the fight in Afghanistan. At the time, Republican Senator John McCain questioned Mattis’ department about the strategy being employed against Islamic Extremism in the region.
“We’re now six months into this administration,” McCain said. “We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy.”
During his testimony, Mattis attempted to assuage Senator McCain’s concerns by indicating that measures were being taken to ensure the war effort in Afghanistan isn’t hindered by the delay in an announcement of a formal strategy moving forward, adding that it would take an increase in resources and personnel to change the tides of the fight.
“The Taliban had a good year last year, and they’re trying to have a good one this year,” he said. “Right now, I believe the enemy is surging.”
On Wednesday, Mattis addressed the press regarding President Trump’s decision to delegate the authority to increase troop count in Afghanistan to the Defense Secretary.
“Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores,” Mattis said in a written statement released on Wednesday.
“However,” he continued, “the danger continues to evolve, and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations that threaten the United States, other nations and the people of Afghanistan.”
Mattis explained that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has established a branch in Afghanistan’s Khorasan province, commonly referred to as Isis-K, and that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain active inside Afghanistan. He also emphasized that “the Taliban continue to pose a challenge to the democratically elected government there.”
“This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said. “We cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies.”
Mattis then added that coalition forces have made progress in degrading the operational capabilities of these groups, but said their defeat will come “only by giving our men and women on the ground the support and the authorities they need to win.”
“The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan,” the secretary said. “Rather, it ensures the Defense Department can facilitate its missions and align its commitment to the rapidly evolving security situation, giving troops greater latitude to provide air power and other vital support.”
“Our core mission will remain the same: to train, advise and assist Afghan forces,” he said. “We are there to help defeat a common enemy and ensure Afghan forces can safeguard the future of their country.”
According to Mattis, this latest decision is only a part of a broader strategy that is currently being developed. That strategy, he claimed, will address the U.S. role in Afghanistan “and beyond,” and will be delivered to the president soon.
“We will present this to the president in the coming weeks,” Mattis said. “We will continue to work with our allies, and we will ask more of them. Working with the Afghan government and our allies and partners, we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe.”
Image courtesy of the EPA