Defense Secretary James Mattis told a congressional panel late Monday President Donald Trump will get options presented to him “very soon” on how to deal with the conflict in Afghanistan, including whether to send more U.S. troops there amid the worsening violence.
Mattis stressed that the Afghanistan matter should be viewed more broadly as a regional issue since it could have far-reaching ramifications not just for the war on terror but security for South and Central Asia.
“We’re taking a regional approach to this,” he said. “We’re looking at everything from the situation between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, Iran and that whole South Asia area.”
His response came during a House Armed Services Committee hearing where Rep. Susan Davis (D-California) commented about how the Afghanistan conflict is becoming more “chaotic and violent” and she added there are “very few options for us.” The hearing was arranged to talk about the fiscal 2018 budget for the Pentagon but it also touched on Afghanistan, ISIS and other national security issues.
“If we look at it [Afghanistan] in isolation, we’ll probably have something that’s lacking in some area,” said Mattis.
“We are going to have to recognize that problems that come out of ungoverned spaces like that as we experienced on 9/11…do not stay there. They can come home to roost here.”
Over the weekend, three U.S. soldiers were killed and a fourth wounded after an attack perpetuated by an Afghan soldier. The attack took place in Nangarhar, an eastern province in Afghanistan.
The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is now going on about 16 years and other recent violence includes a bombing in Kabul’s diplomatic district last month that claimed the lives of more than 150 people. NBC News called it “one of the deadliest single attacks in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.”
According to Mattis, the U.S. has just under 10,000 service members currently stationed in Afghanistan.
“The commander on the ground has asked for more,” Mattis said. “Those discussions are ongoing now with the president.”
The Trump administration is believed to be considering adding up to 4,000 additional U.S. military personnel. NATO nations such as Britain also have troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Mattis, a retired four-star general, reiterated that the focus was to develop “more of a regional strategy so what we’re doing is connected to the geographic reality of where this enemy is fighting from. As you know, it’s not just from Afghanistan.”
That said, Mattis emphasized that the “bulk of the fighting” will continue to be carried out by the Afghan forces.
At the same time, the Defense secretary indicated that funding any additional U.S. troops are not currently reflected in the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request.