Defense Secretary James Mattis said today that he’s crafting a strategy to “end this war” in Afghanistan — one that aims to “remove the danger to the Afghan people and to us and to all the nations that have been attacked by terrorist groups out of that region” — but he can’t say yet how that will affect U.S. troop levels in the country.
Mattis was headed first to Germany before attending a NATO defense ministers’ meeting Thursday in Brussels.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford headed to Afghanistan on Monday to review current U.S. operations there.
“While I’m in Brussels, we’ll be talking to the other nations and, first of all, gauging their advice. They’ve got advice on this. They’ve all been in this from the beginning after America was attacked. These are all nations that have contributed troops. So I’ll be getting advice from them,” Mattis told reporters en route to Europe. “…I’ll share with them our appreciation of the situation, assessment of the situation, and talk about what we’re doing in terms of framing the strategy and filling in any gaps left in the strategy.”
He also plans to meet privately with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and “return home with that information.”
“We will have talked in some level detail about nations willing to commit more. That will be a dialogue; I don’t think it’s logged in yet. What we need — for example, if we need training NCOs, you don’t send an infantry platoon with a lot of privates, OK? So, what you’re gonna do is try to construct a capability that fills specific gaps, not just throws numbers against the wall,” Mattis continued.
The Defense secretary, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Dunford, equipped with an updated intelligence community assessment, will then “present to the president a strategy that’s been informed by our allies, to include Afghanistan of course, and given a framework that is regional in nature and focuses on how we end this war.”
Mattis wouldn’t throw out of a troop number that he intends to include in the recommendation.
“Right now, I’m still looking at capabilities and that sort of thing. I want to get updated before I make a decision like that,” he explained. “The easiest thing in the world to do is to start talking numbers. And to me it’s the worst place to start. I want to do everything else that builds to it.”
“I don’t want extra troops there,” Mattis added. “This is an Afghan army fight. And we’re going to do everything we can to help them be successful in their fight. But this is something where you can’t start off even, at this point, just throwing numbers. You gotta refine it, and what might’ve worked six months ago may not be right today.”
Afghanistan’s Tolo News network reported that the country’s Ministry of Defense prepared a list of recommendations for Dunford, amid rumors that the U.S. may send a few thousand more troops. For one, Afghan forces want to see their intelligence capabilities increased.