US defense secretary vows not to ‘repeat mistakes of the past’ in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense department's budget. (File photo: AP)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis vowed on Wednesday that the Trump administration would not repeat the “mistakes of the past” in dealing with Afghanistan, after the president gave him the power to set troop levels in the war-torn country.

Mattis said the “delegation of authority” letting the Pentagon set troop levels in Afghanistan would give the military greater agility in conducting operations.

Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who kept battlefield commanders on a tight leash and scrutinized each deployment down to the individual soldier, President Donald Trump has been happy to defer his warfighting policy to his top brass -- the men he likes to call “my generals.”

Battlefield commanders under Obama often felt hampered by seemingly arbitrary troop caps.

Currently about 8,400 US troops are in Afghanistan along with another 5,000 or so NATO forces.

“This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Mattis said in a statement.

“We cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or on our allies,” Mattis said. He was alluding to the former Taliban government’s granting haven to Al-Qaeda in the runup to the September 11, 2011 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Earlier, Mattis told lawmakers that he would present Trump with a new US military strategy for Afghanistan by mid-July.

American military commanders in Afghanistan and the surrounding region have requested thousands of additional boots on the ground for months to boost the NATO troop presence there.

“Together in the interagency, we will define the way ahead and I will set a US military commitment consistent with the commander in chief’s strategic directions and his foreign policy, as dictated by Secretary of State Tillerson,” Mattis told lawmakers during a hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mattis said the decision would come in consultation with other US government agencies in a more comprehensive approach to the conflict.

Prior to the White House decision, Mattis had warned that the Taliban was surging - having claimed a series of deadly attacks, including against Afghan military bases and positions - and that America still was “not winning” in the country nearly 16 years after the US-led invasion there.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:54 - GMT 06:54