Pentagon pushes back on Afghanistan report

Pentagon pushes back on Afghanistan report
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The Pentagon is pushing back on a report that 4,000 more U.S. troops will head to Afghanistan and that an announcement about the deployment is imminent.

Defense Secretary James Mattis “has made no decisions on a troop increase for Afghanistan,” chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement Friday. “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.”

On Thursday night, The Associated Press, citing an unnamed Trump administration official, reported that Mattis has decided to send about 4,000 troops to Afghanistan to break what top generals have described as a stalemate.

Right now, there are about 8,400 troops in the country on a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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According to the AP, most of the extra troops would go to the train, advise and assist mission, while a small number would go to the counterterrorism mission.

The AP said the decision could be announced as early as next week.

Earlier this week, President Trump delegated to Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan.

The decision makes it likely that more U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan, as the top U.S. general in the country has said he needs a few thousand more troops.

Mattis has also been said to favor sending thousands more troops but was tight-lipped on his preference during a week of Capitol Hill hearings.

During this week’s hearings, Mattis said repeatedly that Trump’s decision to delegate authorities “does not at this time change the troop numbers for Afghanistan.”

He also insisted it does not give him “carte blanche” to decide on troop numbers himself, stressing that there will still be an interagency process to review an overall strategy for Afghanistan that the president will ultimately approve.

Mattis said the strategy should be ready by mid-July and that it will guide how he sets troop levels.

White reiterated Friday that the troop levels will be dependent on the strategy.

“The secretary will continue to follow the president’s guidance on our overall strategy,” she said. “And decisions about troop numbers will be made only after consultation with the interagency, the Afghan government, NATO allies and coalition partners.”