US President Donald Trump has reportedly allowed Pentagon chief James Mattis to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan, amid mounting criticism about the new administration’s strategy in the war-torn country.
Mattis, who has long been an advocate of sending more troops to Afghanistan, now only needs to decide how many additional forces he wants there and when, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing three administration officials.
Trump granted the authority to Mattis on Tuesday, according to one official, hours before the Pentagon chief appeared in the Senate to answer questions about Trump’s Afghanistan policy.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, we will correct this as soon as possible,” he told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, in response to his criticism about the lack of an Afghanistan strategy.
McCain said the Trump administration had yet to offer a new strategy different that that of his predecessor Barack Obama.
“We’re now six months into this administration. We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy. We know what the strategy was for the last eight years: Don’t lose,” the Arizona lawmaker said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) (L) and ranking member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) visit with Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, June 13, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Trump had already granted similar permission to Mattis in Iraq and Syria.
The move signals a break from Obama, who preferred to keep a close eye on the number of troops abroad.
There are currently over 9,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Washington claims that the massive military presence is only aimed at maintaining security across the country and pushing back Taliban and Daesh (ISIL) militants until Afghan military forces are ready to take over the responsibility.
In mid-April, Trump allowed US troops in Afghanistan to drop the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb—also known as Mother of All Bombs—on a purported Daesh target in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Mattis headed to Afghanistan later that month, on a trip that coincided with the resignation of his Afghan counterpart Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim following a Taliban attack on a military base that killed some 140 soldiers.