Defense Secretary: 'We're Not Winning In Afghanistan'

Donald Trump's hands-off approach gives US military free rein

In testimony before a Senate panel, Mattis said he had received the authority from President Donald Trump to set US troop levels in Afghanistan, which will allow him to more effectively manage the war effort.

Trump had already granted similar permission to Mattis in Iraq and Syria. Mattis, however, sees progress being made. Jack Reed, who also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he'd received the authority over troop levels in talks with Trump on the strategy-which would include the State Department and diplomatic efforts.

The Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any point after the 2001 US -led intervention that toppled the Taliban government, which harbored al Qaeda, the architects of 9/11 terror attacks.

The U.S. has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

Senators sharply criticized Pentagon leaders Tuesday for not completing a new strategy for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, as Defence Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged that "the enemy is surging right now".

Mattis said the delegation of authority does not necessarily mean the US military footprint will increase, arguing it gives the Pentagon needed flexibility in adjusting to battlefield conditions.

"The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan".

Wednesday morning was the defense secretary's third appearance on Capitol Hill this week as he and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discuss their 2018 budget proposal with Congress.

"It certainly could be interpreted as the president kind of distancing himself from these profound decisions and specifically from what we're doing in Afghanistan", she added.

U.S. military commanders, who saw fragile security gains eroded under Obama-era troop draw-downs, have been pushing for a new strategy that could see thousands of additional soldiers deploy to Afghanistan to help train and advise beleaguered Afghan partners.

Earlier in the day, Mattis dismissed the prospect of a return to the major USA troop deployments in Afghanistan, which peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011 during the Obama administration. Jack Reed (R-R.I.), that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies appear ready to contribute additional troops to the mission, dubbed Resolute Support.

Trump has said very little about his intentions in Afghanistan. The administration has been reviewing its options, and Mattis outlined an unchanged mission to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews. These forces would help the fledgling Afghan military regain parts of the country that have fallen to the Taleban since USA forces ended their combat mission there in 2014. And he said a key to that will be the need for the assist the Afghans in planning operations and providing aviation support while Kabul works to increase its combat air power. He contrasted that to the troop levels and restrictions imposed under President Barack Obama. Trump came into office saying he meant to give his generals more authority.

"If all we are doing is tinkering around at the margin of a strategy that amounts to 'Muddle through and hope for a miracle, ' then 3,000 to 5,000 troops are not going to make a difference", Stephen Biddle, a professor at George Washington University and an Afghanistan expert, told AFP.