Mattis signs orders to deploy more forces to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that he has signed orders to deploy more troops to Afghanistan as part of the new U.S. strategy to break the stalemate with the Taliban in the nearly 16-year war there.
The bulk of the new forces ordered to deploy will bolster the U.S. mission to advise and assist Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. Other units that he’s signed orders for include artillery forces and logistical support teams.
“I have signed orders, but it is not complete,” he said. “The fight will still be carried by the Afghan security forces …. by and large this is to enable the Afghan forces to fight effectively.”
Mattis declined to identify what units he ordered to deploy, how many additional troops that he had approved or when they would arrive in Afghanistan. Defense officials said nearly 4,000 new American troops will be added to Afghanistan in the future, raising the U.S. force there to about 15,000.
It was not clear Thursday if the units had been officially notified of their upcoming deployments.
The new forces are expected to include elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and 25th Infantry Division, reported Wednesday by the Washington Post, citing unnamed U.S. officials. Mattis is also expected to deploy Marine artillery detachments and approve an increase in combat air support to include F-16 fighter jets, A-10 ground attack planes and B-52 bombers, according to the Post.
Mattis said Thursday that he would provide more clarity on the new deployments in the near future, but he was not yet prepared to make the information public. He indicated that could occur when he briefs lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Sept. 6.
President Donald Trump approved a new strategy to deal with south Asia – primarily Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India – on Aug. 21 and has provided the authority to Mattis to deploy new forces into the fight. More forces will allow the United States to advise Afghan units closer to the front lines as it battles the Taliban.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it had adjusted its troop counting system, acknowledging for the first time publicly that it has about 11,000 servicemembers serving in Afghanistan, some 2,600 more than it had previously reported. The Defense Department said troop caps installed by former President Barack Obama’s administration failed to account for troops serving in the country on temporary deployments of less than 120 days.
At the height of the United States’ involvement in the war in 2011, more than 100,000 American troops were on the ground in Afghanistan. More than 2,000 Americans have been killed in the war since the U.S. invasion about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In 2017, 10 U.S. servicemembers have been killed in action in Afghanistan, most of whom died in fights against Islamic State militants in the country’s east.
In addition to its mission to train and advise Afghan forces, the United States maintains a unilateral mission to attack ISIS and other terrorist groups in the country, including al-Qaida.
Defense officials have said the bulk of new deployments would focus on aiding the fight against the Taliban, but it would also include some smaller special operations teams to boost the fight against other terrorist groups.