Mattis deploying more than 3,000 new troops to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will send more than 3,000 new troops to Afghanistan as part of President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the 16-year war, but the Defense Department will not provide specific details about those upcoming deployments, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday.
Most of the troops who will soon deploy to the longest war in U.S. history have been notified, and some of them have already departed for Afghanistan, Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. He added he soon expected to sign the last of the orders sending new troops into the conflict.
The boost in troops is in line with the number suggested privately by defense officials for several months. Though Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan and other south Asia nations in a speech Aug. 21, Monday was the first time that Mattis confirmed publicly he would deploy more than 3,000 troops.
He warned reporters not to expect much additional information about those servicemembers’ operations, citing Trump’s pledge not to talk about specifics.
“The president has been very clear that we are not going to broadcast to the enemy how many [troops] are going [and] where exactly they are going,” Mattis said. “You know they are shifting to an even stronger train, advise, assist effort. I think that’s plenty of transparency so that the American people know what we are doing, approximately how much of a troop commitment it is.”
The boost will bring troop strength to about 14,000 American troops operating in Afghanistan under the United States two-fold mission there – the NATO-led operation to train and advise Afghan forces and a unilateral counterterrorism mission.
It marks the first time that the United States has increased its military force in Afghanistan since former President Barack Obama began drawing down its force in that country in 2011, when some 100,000 American troops were fighting there.
Most of the new troops – as well as a few thousand additional troops from NATO countries – will be focused primarily on assisting Afghan forces in their war with the Taliban. Top American officials, including Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top military commander in Afghanistan, have characterized the war with the Islamist insurgent group as a stalemate. Some of the new troops, however, will bolster the counterterror mission, which includes direct combat operations against Islamic State fighters and remnants of al-Qaida.
Defense officials said at least some of the newly deploying troops will come from units already in Afghanistan that left some of their servicemembers behind. Other newly deploying units will provide a range of capabilities including artillery and air support, the officials said on the condition of anonymity. They declined to name units that will deploy.
More than 2,000 American servicemembers have been killed in action in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In 2017, 10 servicemembers have been killed by hostile acts in Afghanistan, most of whom died in fights against Islamic State militants in the country’s east.