Pentagon gets authority to set USA 'troop levels' in Afghanistan

Trump lets Pentagon set Afghanistan troop levels

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has granted the Pentagon authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a United States official said Tuesday, a move that could lead to the deployment of thousands more soldiers.

"The White House has done the same that it did with Iraq and Syria, which is to grant the secretary of defense the authority to set troop levels", the official said, referring to recent adjustments Trump has approved for the fight against Daesh (the so-called IS) in those two countries.

"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", he said.

The U.S. now has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

"I've been given some carte blanche to - to draw up a strategy or a number that's out of step with the strategy", Mattis said. Mattis has warned Congress the US -backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

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Mattis admits that even "winning" would not mean US troops could ever actually leave Afghanistan. That's still in the works - even though troop levels and an overall strategy were supposed to be finalized before the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last month. "We are not winning in Afghanistan right now".

An incensed chairman of the committee, Senator John McCain, said: "We can't keep going like this".

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.

Forced from power after US 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. These forces would help the fledgling Afghan military regain parts of the country that have fallen to the Taleban since USA forces ended their combat mission there in 2014.

Trump has said very little about his intentions in Afghanistan.

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The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to US troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

As for strategy, Mattis said the administration's war approach is being developed in a broader context that includes Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, as well as India.

The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and army officials on the ground in the southern Asian country have told Congress that they could use an infusion of forces to bolster support for the Afghan Army.

That decision, however, had been stalled by a broader review by the Trump administration of Afghan policy and a push for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to contribute more troops.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon was considering a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising.

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