President Donald J. Trump's direction that the Defense Department set troop levels in Afghanistan will enable the U.S. military to have greater agility to conduct operations, recognizing that the military posture there is part of a broader regional context, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today.
"Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores," Mattis said in a written statement released this afternoon.
"However," he continued, "the danger continues to evolve, and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations that threaten the United States, other nations and the people of Afghanistan."
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has established a branch in Afghanistan, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups remain active inside Afghanistan, and the Taliban continue to pose a challenge to the democratically elected government there, the secretary noted.
"This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past," he said. "We cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies."
Providing the Ability to Win
Progress in degrading these groups, Mattis said, but their defeat will come about "only by giving our men and women on the ground the support and the authorities they need to win."
The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan, the secretary said. Rather, he explained, it ensures the Defense Department can facilitate its missions and align its commitment to the rapidly evolving security situation, giving troops greater latitude to provide air power and other vital support.
"Our core mission will remain the same: to train, advise and assist Afghan forces," he said. "We are there to help defeat a common enemy and ensure Afghan forces can safeguard the future of their country."
The decision is part of a broader strategy being developed that addresses the U.S. role in Afghanistan and beyond, Mattis said. "We will present this to the president in the coming weeks," he added. "We will continue to work with our allies, and we will ask more of them. Working with the Afghan government and our allies and partners, we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe."