US Senators have sharply criticised Pentagon leaders for failing to complete a new strategy for the 16-year war in Afghanistan, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged that “the enemy is surging right now”.
Just a few hours later, President Donald Trump gave Mattis the authority to make decisions on US troop levels in Afghanistan, officials told The Associated Press.
The officials, who spoke on Tuesday on condition of anonymity said the move gives Mattis the ability to adjust troop levels more quickly.
At the Senate hearing earlier, Senator John McCain demanded that Mattis wrap up his plan for the war, threatening that, “unless we get a strategy from you, you’re going to get a strategy from us”.
He said he had expected the plan in the first 30 to 60 days of the new administration and snapped: “We want a strategy. I don’t think that’s a helluva lot to ask.”
Mattis, in response, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he will provide details on the new strategy for the war in mid-July.
The US has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and earlier this year, the Pentagon was considering a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising. That decision, however, has been stalled by the broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for NATO to contribute more troops.
Mattis left no doubt about the situation.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible.”
The Taliban’s resurgence has been coupled with a growing threat from Islamic State militants trying to establish a foothold in the country. The increased fight has led to a recent string of American deaths.