Defense Secretary got the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan by Trump

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a US official told Reuters on Tuesday, opening the door for future troop increases requested by the US commander.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400.The Pentagon declined to comment.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to U.S troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and came as Mattis warned Congress the U.S-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday.

“And we will correct this as soon as possible. “Mattis said the Taliban were “surging” at the moment, something he said he intended to address.

It has been four months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S allies.

Current and former U.S officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.

Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Some U.S officials have questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security.

To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.

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