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4,000 more US troops to go to Afghanistan

The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Trump’s presidency

Gulf News

WASHINGTON: 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 US commander-in-chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump’s young presidency.

The decision by Defence 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 US 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 Daesh extremists, evidenced in a rash of deadly attacks in the capital city of Kabul, has only fuelled calls for a stronger US 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 authorised 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 Daesh, the official said.

Asked for comment, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said, “No decisions have been made.”

Daulat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s defence ministry, was reluctant to comment on specifics Friday but said the Afghan government supports the US decision to send more troops.

“The United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism,” he said. “We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the Nato alliance.”

There was no immediate report whether Nato allies would also increase their troop commitment to Afghanistan. The US currently has 8,500 troops deployed in Afghanistan.

“We are the frontline in the war against international terrorism,” Waziri said.

Although Trump has delegated authority for US 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 US troop levels are far lower than they were under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. In 2009, Obama authorised 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 Daesh 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 Qaida network and authorised the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden, but failed to snuff out the Taliban’s rebellion.

Mattis’ 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 US 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 US troops, having lost significant ground to the Taliban in recent months.

But despite repeated questions from Congress this week, Mattis wouldn’t reveal his thinking on a troop increase. He said that while counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan are making progress in weakening Al Qaida and Daesh, “their defeat will come about only by giving our men and women on the ground the support and the authorities they need to win.”

Obama set a cap a year ago of 8,400 troops in Afghanistan after slowing the pace of what he hoped would be a US withdrawal.

Nevertheless, there are at least another 2,000 US troops in Afghanistan not included in the official count. These include forces that are technically considered temporary even if they’ve been in the war zone for months.

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