WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis clarified on Friday that while DOD is setting troop numbers for Afghanistan, President Donald Trump is still setting the strategy that will drive those numbers.

“What he delegated was a tactical decision about what forces to send,” Mattis said of Trump. “He delegated not one bit of the strategy by the way. Not one bit. That is his and his alone.”

There’s still no strategy, although both the White House and Pentagon have said one is coming soon. However the lack of an overall strategy has not kept Mattis from making tactical adjustments that support a more aggressive approach.

“We’ve changed what we’re doing,” Mattis said. “We’ve moved some [troops] out that we don’t need and put different ones in. It’s not like we’ve just been stalled out here.”

For months Trump’s security team has been meeting on how to change the course of the now 16-year-old war. As part of that effort, Trump, Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have made multiple trips to NATO to solicit additional troops from member countries.

The lack of an announced strategy has had the trickle-down effect of stalling commitments from some NATO members who want to know what the plan is before they commit to it.

“We know there will be some allies who are willing to send more troops – but again their troops are as precious to them as ours are to us,” Mattis said. “We’ve got to get this thing right.”

In June Trump delegated the authority to Mattis to set troop levels for Afghanistan, including increasing the current cap beyond the 8,400 U.S. troops now authorized.

The Pentagon is considering sending approximately 4,000 additional forces to Afghanistan to stem the country’s deteriorating security situation.

“I’m going to figure it out before [making a decision]” Mattis said. “The last thing I want to do is send troops in there and find I just sent troops in for something I just cancelled.”


Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."

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