Pentagon Making Plans to Send Additional U.S. Troops to Afghanistan

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – U.S. Army Rangers from United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne), conduct close-quarters battle drills at a range, April 29. The Soldiers were part of a capabilities exercise for members of the local populace in Fayetteville. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael R. Noggle)

The Pentagon is making plans to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. While the number is currently expected to be between 3,000 and 5,000 troops, the number is still being worked on, reports CBS News’ national security correspondent David Martin.

The decision by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be announced in the next several days or couple of weeks. It follows Trump’s move to give Mattis the authority to set troop levels and seeks to address assertions by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that he doesn’t have enough forces to help Afghanistan’s army against a resurgent Taliban insurgency. The rising threat posed by Islamic State extremists, evidenced in a rash of deadly attacks in the capital city of Kabul, has only fueled calls for a stronger U.S. presence, as have several recent American combat deaths.

The bulk of the additional troops will train and advise Afghan forces, according to the administration official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. A smaller number would be assigned to counterterror operations against the Taliban and IS, the official said.

Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said no decisions have been made.

“Secretary Mattis has made no decisions on a troop increase for Afghanistan,” White told CBS News in a statement. “As he said throughout the week in testimony, the revised Afghanistan strategy will be presented to the president for his approval in the coming weeks. The president has delegated force management authority for Afghanistan to the secretary. The secretary will continue to follow the president’s guidance on our overall strategy. Any decisions about troop numbers will be made only after consultation with the interagency, the Afghan government, NATO allies and coalition partners.”

The Trump administration’s strategy for Afghanistan was supposed to be finalized before the NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last month. The Trump strategy is now expected to be complete by mid-July, as Mattis testified before Congress earlier this week. But the justification to lift the cap on troop numbers ahead of an actual strategy was that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government was shaken by recent bombings in the country, and additional U.S. support will help stabilize the situation.

The White House has dismissed the idea that U.S. domestic politics play a role in the timing of the timing of additional troops. President Trump was presented with the idea of allowing additional trainers on Monday, and signed off on it on Tuesday, in efforts to help out Ghani sooner rather than later. The president met with Ghani briefly in Saudi Arabia last month. There are currently no scheduled visits for Ghani to visit the White House, considered a snub by many Afghan officials, given that there are more than 8,400 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

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SOURCE: CBS News, The Associated Press