Trump hands to Pentagon troop level decisions on Afghanistan
President Donald Trump’s decision to allow his Pentagon chief to set U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan won’t mean an immediate infusion of troops but should improve management of the war effort, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday. Still missing: an overall Trump strategy for America’s longest conflict.
“I will set the U.S. military commitment, consistent with the commander in chief’s strategic direction,” Mattis told a Senate panel, announcing a break with past White House control over troop numbers.
Mattis made the announcement a day after being verbally hammered by Sen. John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Republican chairman, for the administration’s failure to present an overarching strategy for Afghanistan. McCain said the U.S. is “not winning” in Afghanistan. Mattis agreed.
Forced from power after U.S. troops invaded in October 2001, the Taliban have been resurgent, increasing their hold on numerous areas of the country and inflicting heavy losses of Afghan security forces.
The U.S. has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, a cap set by President Barack Obama’s White House, which closely controlled troop numbers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in a manner similar to the way the Bush administration handled such matters. Trump’s decision to delegate that authority to Mattis reflects the president’s view that wars are better managed by the Pentagon; he previously provided Mattis leeway to determine how many U.S. troops are in Syria and Iraq.
“This ensures the department can facilitate our missions and nimbly align our commitment to the situation on the ground,” Mattis said, adding that the essential U.S. goals in Afghanistan remain unchanged: help Afghan combat forces gain the upper hand on the Taliban and hunt and kill Islamic extremists.