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Old 02-19-2017, 03:26 PM
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Post Mattis weighs Afghanistan troop levels as top commander in field hits Russia for aidi

Mattis weighs Afghanistan troop levels as top commander in field hits Russia for aiding Taliban
Feb. 20th - 1017

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets Saturday with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Dusit Thani hotel. | WAM / HO / AFP-JIJI

Mattis weighs Afghanistan troop levels as top commander in field hits Russia for aiding Taliban

ABU DHABI – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he plans to make some decisions soon on whether to recommend an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and whether the totals should be based on military requirements rather than preset limits.

Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he spoke for several hours by video conference on Sunday with U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top American commander there. Mattis said he will collect his thoughts and then send recommendations to the White House where, he said, President Donald Trump is open to his advice.

Earlier this month, Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he needs a few thousand more troops to train and advise Afghan forces.

At the time, Nicholson didn’t provide an exact number, but argued for greater flexibility in setting U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan, where the war is entering its 16th year. Defense and military leaders would prefer a troop level based on military requirements, rather than on a specific, predetermined number.

“The president has been rightfully reticent on it because he’s waiting for my assessment and the assessment from the intelligence community,” Mattis said during a press conference. “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ve got to integrate a fair number of issues to give a good recommendation for the way ahead.”

The Pentagon chief was scheduled to fly to Afghanistan to meet with commanders and leaders on Sunday, but he said bad weather prevented the trip.

He said the call with Nicholson and a meeting Saturday in Munich with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were part of his effort to get the latest information on the situation both politically and strategically.

During the hearing, Nicholson told senators that the additional troops could come from the United States or other nations in the U.S.-led coalition.

He noted that when then-President Barack Obama ordered a cut in U.S. troops to 8,400 last year, commanders were forced to hire contractors to do jobs that American forces would normally do.

As an example, Nicholson said that because of the troop cut, the aviation brigade that deployed to Afghanistan was able to bring its helicopters, pilots and staff. But its mechanics had to stay behind at Fort Riley, Kansas, and contractors were hired instead at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars,” affecting the unit’s readiness.

The Obama administration came under fire for what critics said was unnecessary micromanagement of the military deployments.

Of the American forces now in Afghanistan, more than 2,100 are conducting counterterrorism missions. The remainder are part of the training and advisory mission. Another several hundred U.S. forces are stationed outside the country, but can quickly deploy into the war zone if needed from elsewhere in the region.

On a separate issue, Nicholson told the senators that Russian meddling is complicating the counterterrorism fight. Mattis said that part of his evaluation will look at “what other countries in the region are doing in Afghanistan to help or hinder us.”

Mattis added that while the Afghans have lost some territory to the Taliban, the insurgents have suffered a lot of damage and haven’t met their tactical objectives.

He acknowledged that Afghan forces have had a lot of casualties, but he said they’ve held on and, “the Taliban is in a worse position today, even though I do not equate that to success on our side.”

The Afghan war is the longest in U.S. history but Trump has scarcely given it a passing mention — either while campaigning or since entering the White House.

Mattis said his commander-in-chief had been “rightfully reticent” on the matter, as he was waiting for input from his generals.

Trump “is open to my advice on it, but first of all I’ve got to formulate where I stand, so this is the normal collection of … information.”

U.S.-led forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for 16 years, making it America’s longest-ever war, yet Nicholson this month told Congress the situation remains stuck in a “stalemate.”

Nicholson said he needs thousands more troops to help the beleaguered Afghan forces, who have suffered catastrophic losses.

The question of whether to double down in the seemingly endless conflict will now become one of Trump’s first major military strategy questions.

Trump would seek the advice of Mattis before deciding on Nicholson’s request for reinforcements, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said.

Trump had suggested in a recent call to Afghanistan President Ghani that he would consider sending more soldiers, according to media reports.

Further complicating the picture is Russia’s role in the conflict.

Nicholson has accused Moscow of giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover in order to undermine American influence and to defeat NATO.

Mattis did not directly address the role of Russia, which as the Soviet Union fought a bitter war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Mattis said he needs to “assess what the other countries in the region are doing in Afghanistan to help or hinder us in our efforts. We are still sorting that out.”

Earlier this month, a U.S. government watchdog said the death rate among Afghan security forces soared last year and the Kabul government’s overall control of the country dropped significantly.

While acknowledging the “very heavy price” the Afghans paid, Mattis said the local forces had succeeded in keeping the Taliban on the back foot.

It’s “been a hard fight all the way through,” he said.

“I would question who came out on the shorter end of the stick. I’d rather be in NATO right now than I would want to be in the Taliban’s position.”

Mattis visited NATO headquarters in Brussels last week to urge member countries to pay more into the alliance and to reassure them that America was committed to it.

Trump while campaigning spoke disparagingly of NATO, even though the alliance has been key to the fight in Afghanistan ever since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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