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About 4,000 more U.S. troops to go to Afghanistan

  • A member of the Afghan national Army stands guard at a checkpoint in the Kabul-Jalalabad highway on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, in April. AP file



Associated Press
Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Pentagon will send almost 4,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan, a Trump administration official said Thursday, hoping to break a stalemate in a war that has now passed to a third U.S. commander in chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump’s young presidency.

The decision by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be announced as early as next week, the official said. It follows Trump’s move to give Mattis the authority to set troop levels and seeks to address assertions by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that he doesn’t have enough forces to help Afghanistan’s army against a resurgent Taliban insurgency. The rising threat posed by Islamic State extremists, evidenced in a rash of deadly attacks in the capital city of Kabul, has only fueled calls for a stronger U.S. presence, as have several recent American combat deaths.

The bulk of the additional troops will train and advise Afghan forces, according to the administration official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. A smaller number would be assigned to counterterror operations against the Taliban and ISIS, the official said.

Although Trump has delegated authority for U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan, the responsibility for America’s wars and the men and women who fight in them rests on his shoulders. Trump has inherited America’s longest conflict with no clear endpoint or a defined strategy for American success, though U.S. troop levels are far lower than they were under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. In 2009, Obama authorized a surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, bringing the total there to more than 100,000, before drawing down over the rest of his presidency.

Trump has barely spoken about Afghanistan as a candidate or president, concentrating instead on crushing the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. His predecessors both had hoped to win the war. Bush scored a quick success, helping allied militant groups oust the Taliban shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, before seeing the gains slip away as American focus shifted to the Iraq war. In refocusing attention on Afghanistan, Obama eliminated much of the country’s al-Qaeda network and authorized the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, but failed to snuff out the Taliban’s rebellion.

Mattis’s deployment of more troops will be far smaller than Obama’s.

While military leaders have consistently said more forces are needed, a decision had been tied up in a lengthy, wider debate about America’s long-term military, diplomatic and economic strategy for ending the war. Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander there, has said the troops are necessary to properly train and advise the Afghan military and perform work handled at greater cost by contractors. Afghan leaders endorse the idea of more U.S. troops, having lost significant ground to the Taliban in recent months.