WASHINGTON: Defence Secretary James Mattis has confirmed that President Donald Trump has authorised him to "manage" US troop levels in Afghanistan, paving the way for sending more American forces amidst a surge in Taliban attacks in the war-ravaged country.
Mattis' new authority to manage troop levels in Afghanistan will likely mean the deployment of thousands of additional US service members this summer.
"At noon yesterday, President Trump delegated to me the authority to manage troop numbers in Afghanistan," Mattis said.
"The delegation of this authority, consistent with the authority President Trump granted me two months ago for Iraq and Syria does not, at this time, change the troop numbers for Afghanistan," he told members of the Subcommittee on Defence Hearing on the Department of Defence yesterday.
"Together in the inter-agency, we will define the way ahead and I will set the US military commitment, consistent with the commander in chief strategic direction and the foreign policy as dictated by secretary of state Tillerson,” he said during the hearing.
The Pentagon chief, however said that he has yet not decided on the final plan of deploying troops.
"Our overall mission Afghanistan remains the same. To train, advise and assist the Afghan forces so they can safeguard the Afghan people and terrorists can find no haven in Afghanistan for attacking us or others. The revised Afghanistan strategy with the new approach will be presented to the president for his approval in the coming weeks," he said.
The US currently has some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Army General John Nicholson, the top US commander in war- ravaged Afghanistan, had told Congress that he could use an infusion of US and allied troops to bolster support for the Afghan Army.
The decision to fix troop levels has been by welcomed by Afghanistan as it stated that it firms the commitment towards between the two nations.
"Afghanistan welcomes the decision by President Trump to give Defence Secretary Gen. James Mattis the authority to set US military troop levels in Afghanistan, a development that underscores the United States' strong commitment to our two countries' long-term joint efforts to defeat common enemies and bring about peace and stability," Afghanistan's Ambassador to America Hamdullah Mohib said.
He exuded confidence that the decision will advance the strategic objectives of the US-Afghan mission and provide essential support to the brave Afghan troops fighting on the front lines of this global struggle between good and evil.
"Daesh (IS), Al-Qaeda and the Taliban along with more than two-dozen other terror groups threaten not just the people of Afghanistan but also the United States and other nations," Mohib said.
Mattis said the US military posture in Afghanistan is part of a larger regional context in South Asia. Responding to questions, Mattis said the Afghan policy of the Trump administration is likely to be announced within weeks.
"I'm talking about within weeks, not months. I will come up and brief you and any of your colleagues," he said.
"I think right now what we have to look at is what kind of capabilities do we bring to them because the Afghans have proven they will fight. They have suffered horrible losses and they keep fighting. They're not fighting as well as they could if we gave them the kind of air support, more intel support that we could give them," he asserted.
The Taliban has stepped up their attacks on foreign forces in recent months. Three US soldiers were killed and another wounded last Saturday when they were attacked by an Afghan soldier, who was then killed.
Two US Army Rangers died in a April 27 raid on an IS compound in eastern Afghanistan.