Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Afghanistan Troop Levels

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says President Donald Trump has given him the authority to determine U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis blamed the Obama administration Wednesday for the withdrawal of USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in 2014 that he said allowed the Taliban to regroup in Afghanistan.

The White House decision came the same day that Mr Mattis told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee "we are not winning" in Afghanistan.

Mattis noted Obama's decision to declare the combat operation over at the end 2014, and then to withdrawing US combat firepower from the Afghan military came at a time when it needed it the most, the Examiner reported.

In the short term, Mr Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said extra USA troops sent to the country would provide more fire and air support to the Afghans.

"The delegation of this authority, consistent with the authority President Trump granted me two months ago for Iraq and Syria does not, at this time, change the troop numbers for Afghanistan", he said.

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Former U.S. President Barack Obama had planned to reduce the current number of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to some 5,500 by the end of 2015 and withdraw all troops by the end of 2016 when his presidency came to an end.

"We're now six months into this administration, we still haven't got a strategy for Afghanistan", McCain said, noting it was hard to get behind an Afghanistan budget request without knowing what the plan is. However, Mattis also revealed that he hasn't yet decided whether to send in more troops. We can not allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies.

"I don't have anything I can comment on that right now". That decision, however, stalled amid the administration's Afghan review and a push for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to contribute more troops.

Mattis said that adding more forces in Afghanistan would "restore the high ground" by lending more USA assets to help the Afghans with air support and in turn would buy them more time to mature their forces and reduce casualties. Additional conversations must be had if the Pentagon decides it needs a few thousand more additional troops in coming years, he said. He said he hasn't made any decisions about sending more troops into the 16-year running war.

He added that additional air support for the Afghans would give the illusion that situation was improving, or at least holding steady, but would do nothing to fix the underlying problems plaguing the Afghan military, such as an unstable national government and rampant corruption.

"We know what the strategy was for the last eight years: Don't lose". "And we will correct this as soon as possible".

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