WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that he is waiting on a plan from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that follows President Donald Trump’s newly announced South Asia strategy before announcing any U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan.
“Let me look at the plan that the military brings me. We’ve given them the strategic goals. They now have to line up the different things that they have to do and assign troops to each one of those efforts,” Mattis said after being asked about reports that the Trump administration is considering sending some 3,900 additional forces to the 8,400 in theater.
“Once I see that, look at the number we have on the ground, reorganize those we have on the ground to align with the new strategy, and then bring in whatever gap fillers I need.”
Mattis said that the president has set a troop level ceiling. He said lessons learned in the fight against ISIS, like delegating authority down the chain of command, would be applied to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Trump, in a speech Monday, outlined his vision for the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists,” Trump said from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va.
Trump said his approach would forgo a timeline for the U.S. engagement in the country, which is in it’s sixteenth year, but rather let “conditions on the ground” guide U.S. tactics. Trump plans to pressure nations that provide support and shelter to terror groups in the region, including Pakistan, and will condition relations with the nations based on anti-terror efforts.
In the case of Pakistan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday this could mean withholding aid and military assistance and downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.
The ultimate goal is to bring about conditions for a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, that includes provisions to ensure that there is “no safe haven for terrorists to operate anywhere in Afghanistan now or in the future.”
“This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one but neither will you,” Tillerson said during a news conference at the State Department. “So, at some point we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end.”
He said that the Gulf nations, India, China and Russia will also have a role to play. Tillerson called Russia’s support of the Taliban with arms “a violation of international norms.”
Tillerson said that no matter the U.S. troop increase, it will be Afghan government forces doing the frontline fighting like they have since NATO handed over combat operations in 2014.
He said the Afghan government must prove it’s working to combat corruption, and the U.S. needs to be more accountable about distributing aid and assistance to the Afghan government.