Pentagon considers sending more troops to Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering sending additional troops to Afghanistan in an effort to “move beyond the stalemate,” US military officials told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

A plan for more troops would be part of a broader set of recommendations on how to adjust the US military approach in Afghanistan that the Pentagon plans to send to President Donald Trump “within the next week,” according to Theresa Whelan, the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations.

The troops, which could consist of special forces personnel and more conventional soldiers, would be part of the NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan army and police force in its fight against the Taliban but would also aid the US counterterrorism effort there as well.

Addressing the committee Thursday, Whelan told lawmakers that the proposals are intended “to move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region.”

“We want to maintain that partnership with Afghanistan and we want to ensure that Afghanistan reaches its potential, so that’s the objective of the strategy,” she added.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis traveled to Afghanistan late last month to give the Afghan government his recommendations for US involvement moving forward.

At the time, he declined to share what those recommendations were.

But he did say, “We are under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission,” adding that “2017 is going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood and who will continue to stand should to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.”

Top military commanders have said there is a need for additional troops in Afghanistan.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in February that the coalition faced “a shortfall of a few thousand” troops to break the “stalemate” it faces there.

Those additional troops would allow US advisers to work with Afghan army units at the brigade level, bringing the Afghan mission more in line with how US advisers operate in Iraq. Currently US advisers are mainly concentrated at the headquarters level, far away from Afghan troops in the field.

There are about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan. The majority of those forces are involved in training and advising Afghan troops. About 2,000 US servicemembers participate in a counterterrorism mission aimed at targeting groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.

US troops have been present for nearly 16 years in Afghanistan, where the government backed by its coalition allies are battling a resilient Taliban as well as other terror groups including ISIS.

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