Mattis vows not to 'repeat mistakes of the past' in Afghanistan

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The United States is "not winning" the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Tuesday, promising to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more USA troops.

"At one point, when we reduced our forces there, I believe in what was probably in hindsight a misguided application of our forces, we restricted them from using our air support, with some idea we would wean them off the need for it", Mattis said. John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee's Republican chairman, for the administration's failure to present an overarching strategy for Afghanistan.

The prospect of new USA troop levels in Afghanistan came at a time when senior US officials warned of dire security situation in Afghanistan.

"At noon yesterday, President Trump delegated to me the authority to manage troop numbers in Afghanistan", Mattis said.

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Mattis said his new strategy, which will be finished in the coming weeks, will restore the "high ground" by restoring North Atlantic Treaty Organisation air forces to a position of dominance, the Examiner reported.

There are now about 8,500 USA troops in Afghanistan and around 5,000 forces from additional nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"We're now six months into this administration, we still haven't got a strategy for Afghanistan", McCain said, noting it was hard to get behind an Afghanistan budget request without knowing what the plan is.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis can now directly adjust troop numbers, though the official would not confirm whether a new "force management level" - currently at around 8,400 - had been finalized.

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The U.S.'s commanders on the ground there have been wanting at least a "few thousand" more troops for months.

Army General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress that he could use an infusion of United States and allied troops to bolster support for the Afghan army. "Our primary national interest and the global interest in Afghanistan is ensuring it does not become an ungoverned space from which attacks can be launched against the United States, other nations or the Afghan people", he said. That decision, however, has been stalled by the broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to contribute more troops.

The Pentagon had considered a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising. The justification to lift the cap on levels ahead of the formation of an actual strategy is that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government was shaken by recent bombings in the country, and additional US support will help stabilize the situation.

The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of Feb 20, a almost 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. "We will correct this as soon as possible", he said.

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