Wednesday, June 28, 2017

US may send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan

President Donald Trump recently gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Mattis could officially announce the increased troop level as early as next week.

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan now for 16 years with no sign of the war ending. Indeed, the Islamic State is now active in the country and the Taliban are gaining control of more territory. Mattis is now the third U.S. commander in chief in Afghanistan. The new force will be the largest since Donald Trump took power. Mattis had said that he did not have enough forces to help Afghan forces fight off the Taliban.
An anonymous administration official claimed that most of the additional troops will be used to train and advise Afghan forces. However, a smaller number will be used for counter-terror operations. The additional troops will no doubt result in more casualties. There have been several this year but the number will remain small in comparison to the period when the U.S. was involved in combat operations. In spite of the reports Jeff Davis a Navy Captain and Pentagon spokesperson said: "No decisions had been made". Earlier recommendations at the first of May were for 3,000 to 5,000 new troops.
Daulat Waziri, a spokesperson for the Afghan defense ministry said he supported the U.S. decision to send more troops saying:"The United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism. We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the NATO alliance. We are the frontline in the war against international terrorism." Even though Trump has given Mattis authority to set troop levels, Trump will still be held responsible for increasing U.S. involvement in America's longest conflict with no end in sight or even any clear idea of the U.S. aim or strategy. However, the troop levels are nowhere near that of their peak of more than 100,000 in 2009 under President Obama. While in 2001 Bush with Afghan allies were able to oust the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the group's rebellion still rages in 2017 with the addition of competing Islamic State fighters in a few areas. Obama had set a cap of 8,400 troops in Afghanistan although there are probably at least 2,000 more than that classified as temporary.
General John Nicholson the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan had advised that more U.S. troops were necessary to train and advise the Afghan military. Mattis has not up to now given his own thinking on a troop increase except to say that US and Afghan efforts are making progress in weakening al-Qaida and the Islamic State(IS). However, the main is opponent is not Al-Qaeda or the IS but the Taliban. Mattis told a House Appropriation panel that reconciliation remained the goal: "We're not looking at a purely military strategy. All wars come to an end. Our job is to end it as quickly as possible without losing the very mission that we've recognized, through several administrations, that was worth putting those young Americans on the line for." However, the Taliban are unlikely to agree to any peace unless all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan which seems unlikely in the near future. Indeed other NATO countries will also be asked to increase their troop deployments as the U.S. has done. Since 2001 the U.S. military has lost 2,400 and three were killed quite recently. As U.S. troops ground troops help the Afghan forces trying to slow down the Taliban advance they will inevitably become involved in combat with resultant casualties. However as long as the number remains small and most operations will be from the air there will not likely be much political fallout.
The Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah is not popular. After a recent truck bomb attack there were violent protests against the lack of security after a deadly truck bomb attack. The Americans could find that they also will also become the target of protests as their air and other attacks kill civilians. There may be more attacks against U.S. troops involving the very Afghan forces the U.S. is training.

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