Mattis tight-lipped on new Afghanistan war strategy
AMMAN, Jordan — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday he is satisfied with how the administration formulated its new Afghanistan war strategy. But he refused to talk about the new policy until it was disclosed by President Donald Trump.
He said the deliberations, including talks at the Camp David presidential retreat on Friday, were done properly.
“I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous,” Mattis said, speaking aboard a military aircraft on an overnight flight from Washington to Amman, Jordan.
Months ago, Trump gave Mattis authority to set U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, but Mattis said he has not yet sent significant additional numbers. He has said he would wait for Trump to set the strategic direction first.
Mattis did not mention that Gen. Joseph Votel, who as Central Command chief is responsible for directing the war in Afghanistan, was not invited to the Camp David talks. Votel has said his views were represented by Mattis. The top U.S. commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, also was not invited to attend.
Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that he had made decisions at Camp David, “including on Afghanistan,” but he did not say more about it. The expectation had been that he would agree to a modest boost in the U.S. war effort with an additional 3,800 to 3,900 troops.
Mattis said Trump had been presented with multiple options. He did not name them, but others have said one option was to pull out of Afghanistan entirely. Another, which Mattis had mentioned recently in Washington, was to hire private contractors to perform some of the U.S. military’s duties.
Afghan military commanders have been clear that they want and expect continued U.S. military help.
Pulling out American forces “would be a total failure,” Col. Abdul Mahfuz, the Afghan intelligence agency chief for Qarahbagh, north of Kabul, said Saturday. And he said that substituting paid contractors for U.S. troops would be a formula for continuing the war, rather than completing it.
The administration has been at odds for months over how to develop a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, amid frustrations that after 16 years the conflict is stalemated against a resilient Taliban and an offshoot of the Islamic State group.
Mahfuz and other Afghan commanders spoke at a shura council meeting at Bagram air base attended also by U.S. military officers and Afghan intelligence officials.
Col. Abdul Mobin, who commands an Afghan mechanized battalion in the 111th Division, said any reduction in the U.S. military presence “leads to total failure.”
Speaking through an interpreter, he added that operations by Afghan and U.S. special operations forces have been very effective, and that “the presence of U.S. military personnel is felt and considered a positive step for peace.”
He said he’d like to see an additional 10,000 American troops in the country.