Trump gives Pentagon power over Afghan troop levels

A US Army carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of US Army Sgt. Eric M. Houck during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover Delaware on Monday. — AFP

President Donald Trump's decision to empower the Pentagon to set troop levels in Afghanistan will increase the USA military's agility, giving US forces greater latitude to "provide air power and other vital support", the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

"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.

He said the administration is working on a broad Afghanistan strategy, and that he intends to set United States troop levels consistent with Trump's "strategic direction and his foreign policy".

"At one point, when we reduced our forces there, I believe in what was probably in hindsight a misguided application of our forces, we restricted them from using our air support, with some idea we would wean them off the need for it", Mattis said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, who led the US war effort in Afghanistan for 19 months beginning in fall 2003, said that he is not sure that the potential troop surge "is as big of a deal as it is being made out to be", and that it is unlikely that Mattis will be able to deploy an unlimited number of troops without any supervision by the White House. Mattis told McCain a strategy would be presented by the middle of July.

"We're not winning in Afghanistan right now", Mattis said, adding: "We'll correct this as soon as possible".

"I would say that the reason we have not been attacked over many years from where the 9/11 attack originated is heavily due to the sacrifices that we have made over years as we have kept the enemy on the back foot", Mattis said.

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"We can not allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies", Mattis said. "Which would be a waste of time, lives and money", said Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan.

When Obama announced that he was sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan during a speech at West Point in 2009, his decision making process had included reviews from both Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the head of USA forces in Afghanistan, and the White House.

American military commanders in Afghanistan and the surrounding region have requested thousands of additional boots on the ground for months to boost the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troop presence there.

"This decision is part of a broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond".

Mattis said that adding more forces in Afghanistan would "restore the high ground" by lending more USA assets to help the Afghans with air support and in turn would buy them more time to mature their forces and reduce casualties. That decision, however, has been stalled by the broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to contribute more troops. We can not allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies.

The Pentagon had considered a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising.

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