(CNSNews.com) – Although President Trump in his Monday night speech did not say directly that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will grow, Defense Secretary James Mattis came close to doing so, saying some allies have “also” pledged to send more troops.
“I have directed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make preparations to carry out the president’s strategy,” Mattis said. “I will be in consultation with the secretary-general of NATO and our allies – several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers.”
“Together, we will assist the Afghan Security Forces to destroy the terrorist hub,” he added.
In his speech at the Fort Myer military base in Virginia, Trump made clear his administration would not emulate its predecessor by laying out timetables and details of troop increases or drawdowns in Afghanistan.
“I’ve said it many times, how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options,” he said. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”
Later, Trump did also say that NATO allies and partners would be asked to increase troop numbers and funding “in line with our own,” although it wasn’t clear in that instance whether he was referring to current or envisaged future U.S. funding and troop levels.
The U.S. now has some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, most forming part of a NATO-led Resolute Support mission to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces. U.S. personnel are also conducting counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other groups.
Almost 40 other countries are involved in the mission, with Italy, Germany, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Britain accounting for the larger troops contingents. NATO figures earlier this year put the total troop numbers, including those of the U.S., at around 13,460.
Unnamed U.S. officials were cited in wire service reports earlier Monday as saying around 4,000 additional U.S. troops will be deployed.
Trump’s speech came after a lengthy interagency review which Mattis described as “rigorous.”
The defense secretary shared some of his own views on the subject during a congressional appearance last June, when he said the Taliban had been “emboldened” as a result of decisions taken by President Obama, including declaring combat operations over in late 2014 and limiting air support for the U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
“At one point, when we reduced our forces there – I believe in what was probably in hindsight a misguided application of our forces – we restricted them from using our air support, with some idea we would wean them off the need for it,” Mattis told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
“That meant in the mountain country these troops were often fighting at a disadvantage.”
Mattis told the panel that the need to preserve U.S. security at a time when the region is beset by Sunni terrorism and Iranian violence “requires us to sustain the international presence in Afghanistan to help stabilize the South Asia region and deny terrorists a safe haven.”
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