U.S. President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said late Tuesday.
This could mean a boost in the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where 16 years of fighting against the Taliban and other militants has resulted in a stalemate.
Jim Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday that the United States is not gaining in the fight to stabilize Afghanistan and he vowed to present a strategy to Congress “by mid-July.”
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon possible,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mattis acknowledged that the Trump administration is currently in a “strategy-free time” concerning Afghanistan.
The defense secretary called on Congress to provide the Pentagon with a budget, “not a continuing resolution,” that is “passed on time,” in order to push the U.S. military through readiness shortfalls while maintaining a support role in two wars.
Republican Senator John McCain, the chair of the committee, agreed that Congress needs to pass a budget. But he also sounded a bit annoyed when he said Congress needs to see a plan on how the U.S. can move forward in Afghanistan.
“It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy,” McCain said.
The Arizona senator noted that the last administration’s plan in Afghanistan was simply “don’t lose,” which McCain said has not worked.
Secretary Mattis equated “winning” in Afghanistan with the Afghan government’s ability to handle the enemy’s level of violence, which he said will require a “residual force” of U.S. and allied forces to train Afghan troops and maintain high-end capabilities.
“It’s going to take a change in approach,” Mattis said.
But he said the United States cannot quit on Afghanistan because problems that threaten the U.S. and its economy arise out of “ungoverned spaces.”
On Saturday, a uniformed member of the Afghan Special Forces turned his gun on U.S. military personnel, killing three American soldiers and wounding one other.
The Pentagon said 25-year-old Sgt. Eric Houck, 29-year-old Sgt. William Bays and 22-year-old Corporal Dillon Baldridge of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division were killed during the attack in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.
Senator McCain highlighted the attack on Tuesday. He said Congress and the Department of Defense should not ask the families of service members to “sacrifice any further” without an Afghanistan strategy in place.