Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Afghanistan Troop Levels
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 14, 2017)
Yesterday afternoon, the President directed the Department of Defense to set troop levels in Afghanistan. This will enable our military to have greater agility to conduct operations, recognizing our military posture there is part of a broader regional context.

Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores. However, the danger continues to evolve and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations that threaten the United States, other nations, and the people of Afghanistan.

For example, ISIS has established a branch in Khorasan Province, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain active inside Afghanistan, and the Taliban continue to pose a challenge to the democratically elected government.

This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past. We cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies.

We are making progress in degrading these groups, but their defeat will come about only by giving our men and women on the ground the support and the authorities they need to win.

The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan. Rather, it ensures the Department of Defense can facilitate our missions and align our commitment to the rapidly evolving security situation, giving our troops greater latitude to provide air power and other vital support. Our core mission will remain the same: to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We are there to help defeat a common enemy and ensure Afghan forces can safeguard the future of their country.

This decision is part of a broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond. We will present this to the President in the coming weeks. We will continue to work with our allies and we will ask more of them.

Working with the Afghan government and our allies and partners, we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe.

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President Gives Mattis Authority to Set U.S. Troop Strength in Afghanistan
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 14, 2017)
WASHINGTON --- President Donald J. Trump has delegated authority to manage the number of U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The secretary spoke about this delegation in his opening statement during a budget hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee this morning.

"The American military effort in Afghanistan must be viewed as part of a larger regional context in South Asia," Mattis told the senators. "Our primary national interest and the international interest in Afghanistan is ensuring it does not become an ungoverned space from which attacks can be launched against the United States, other nations or the Afghan people," he said.

Partnered Operations, Training Afghan Forces

To meet this national interest, U.S. forces are conducting partnered counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, while other U.S. forces are working with NATO's Resolute Support mission to train Afghan security forces to shoulder their country's security mission.

"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."

Interagency Partners

Mattis promised to work with interagency partners to define the way ahead. "I will set the U.S. military commitment, consistent with the commander in chief's strategic direction and the foreign policy as dictated by Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson," he said.

The fight in Afghanistan remains important, the secretary said, noting that Afghanistan was the staging ground for the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I would say that the reason we have not been attacked over many years from where the 9/11 attack originated is heavily due to the sacrifices that we have made over years as we have kept the enemy on the back foot," Mattis said. "It's hard for them to conduct external operations out of that former stronghold when they are just trying to hang onto their own lives and avoid us."

Part of the reason for a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan was that international support was reduced too soon, he said. "We pulled out our forces, at a time ... when the violence was lower," he said. "But we pulled them out on a timeline, rather than consistent with the maturation of the government and the security forces."

U.S. and coalition forces are working the support mission, and Afghan forces will receive the air support that was in short supply, the secretary said.

About 13,000 U.S and coalition troops are currently in Afghanistan.

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