WASHINGTON: Defence Secretary Jim Mattis appeared before a Congress committee and said that the Afghanistan security forces are fully engaged in combat operations for the first time during the 16-year-old war and are suffering fewer casualties as they continue to improve their competence on the battlefield.
During the testimony, Mattis sought to assure lawmakers that President Donald Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan represents the best approach for winning America’s longest war.
Mattis said the Afghan forces are becoming bolder in combat because they know US and Nato forces are using airpower to strike the Taliban and other militants on ‘the high ground’. That frees up the Afghans to “take the fight to the enemy”, Mattis said.
But Marine Corp Gen Dunford said it’s currently a stalemate in Afghanistan. “We’re not at a point where we can bring a successful political solution to the war,” Dunford said.
Mattis also said during the hearing that the United States should remain in the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration that constrains Iran’s ability to build a nuclear arsenal
Senator Angus King asked if he thinks it’s in the national security interest of the United States to stay a part of the international accord. Mattis says, “Yes, senator, I do.”
Sen John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, lectured Mattis and Dunford at the opening of the hearing for failing to provide lawmakers with detailed information about Trump’s Afghanistan strategy.
McCain declared that it was ‘bizarre’ that Mattis and Dunford did not submit written testimony before the hearing started. That’s common practice for administration of witnesses, testifying before congressional committees.
“We want to be your partners,” McCain said. “But this committee will not be a rubber stamp for any policy or president. We must be well-informed. We must be convinced of the merits of the administration’s actions. And unfortunately, we still have far more questions than answers about this new strategy.”
Trump unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan in August and said American troops would ‘fight to win’ by attacking enemies, ‘crushing’ al Qaeda, and preventing terrorist attacks against Americans.
Mattis told the committee that more than 3,000 additional American forces will be arriving in the coming months to expand the training of the Afghan forces. The combined US and Nato troop contingent currently in the country is about 13,500.
Trump also singled out Pakistan for harbouring Taliban leaders and other militants that are battling American troops in Afghanistan. Trump’s tough words about Pakistan infuriated Islamabad, which has denied the country provides safe havens for the Taliban.
A top US military officer said on Tuesday that he believed that Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had ties to militant groups.
“It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The administration said last month that it was holding up the release of $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracked down on extremist groups that threaten Afghanistan.