President Donald Trump delegated authority Tuesday to decide troop levels in Afghanistan to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Mattis told Congress at an appropriations hearing Wednesday.
Mattis indicated troop levels would be maintained at 8400 for the time being but said he would brief Congress within weeks as to the Pentagon’s decision, but stressed that victory is still “achievable” after 16 years of war. Trump’s decision mimics his past delegation of troop level authority in the fight against ISIS to Mattis and is a major department from the Obama administration.
Mattis is likely to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by a few thousand. Both U.S. commanders in charge of the Afghan war have testified before Congress that they believe more troops are needed. Mattis told Congress Tuesday the U.S. is not winning in Afghanistan and admitted that the Taliban insurgent movement is “surging.”
The marginal troop increase of a few thousand will still likely double down on the core U.S. strategy of supporting the Afghan government and Afghan National Security Forces. The Taliban have made historic gains since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014, and the Afghan National Security Forces have suffered massive losses.
The force is also beset by pervasive corruption and battlefield ineffectiveness. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction noted in late April that the security force’s casualties continue to be “shockingly high.” The report highlighted 807 Afghan troops were killed in just the first six weeks of 2017, and that nearly 35 percent of the force chooses not to re-enlist each year.
The report continued that Afghan forces face “many problems: unsustainable casualties, temporary losses of provincial and district centers, weakness in logistics and other functions, illiteracy in the ranks, often corrupt or ineffective leadership, and over-reliance on highly trained special forces for routine missions.”