Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed Wednesday that President Trump has granted him the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. The move means Mattis will decide whether to send 2,000 to 4,000 more American troops to Afghanistan as has been recommended by U.S. military commanders.
“At noon yesterday, President Trump delegated to me the authority to manage troop numbers in Afghanistan,” Mattis told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee in his opening statement.
Mattis said the decision does not mean a change in troop numbers will happen right now, though he indicated he might have an idea of how many in a few weeks time.
He indicated that additional U.S. troops could be directed towards specific tasks to help the Afghan military like more air power and more intelligence support.
“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," Mattis told the committee.
"Together in the interagency, we will define the way ahead and I will set the U.S. military commitment, consistent with the commander in chief strategic direction and the foreign policy as dictated by secretary of state Tillerson," said Mattis. "This ensures the department can facilitate our missions and nimbly align our commitment to the situation on the ground."
In late April, Trump gave Mattis the authority to manage the U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria.
While a similar delegation of authority to the Pentagon for Afghanistan troop levels had been expected, it had been anticipated that it would occur after the Trump administration concluded its Afghanistan strategy review.
On Tuesday, Mattis told a congressional panel that the review will be completed in mid-July.
"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon as possible," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In February, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, described the military situation there as "a stalemate" and acknowledged the need for additional troops to assist the Afghan military.
U.S. officials have said that as part of the strategy review the U.S. military had proposed sending 2,000 to 4,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.
The delegation of troop level authority to Mattis means that the defense secretary will decide how many additional American troops could be headed to Afghanistan.
The move restores the process that had been in place prior to the Bush and Obama administrations.
Defense Department officials portrayed the return to the Pentagon of control over Iraq and Syria troop levels as giving military commanders more flexibility and better management of their operations.