Politics

Defense Secretary Mattis confirms the US is about to undertake a new Afghan strategy

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President Donald Trump and members of his staff board Marine One, en route to nearby Camp David to meet with the National Security Council to try to agree on a strategy for Afghanistan, in Hagerstown, Maryland, August 18, 2017.

Credit:

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed Sunday that the Trump administration had decided on a new strategy for Afghanistan after "rigorous" debate, but said President Donald Trump would be the one to announce it. 

Mattis refused to hint at any details of the decision, which came after months of speculation over whether Trump, frustrated with a stalemate after 16 years in Afghanistan, would allow the Pentagon to boost troop numbers on the ground in the country. 

However Mattis appeared satisfied after what he described as an in-depth review of the policy by much of the president's cabinet and top security officials at Camp David on Friday. 

"I'm very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous, and did not go in with a preset condition in terms of what questions could be asked and what decisions could be made," he said. 

"Everyone who had equity was heard," he said, including budget officials responsible for funding the effort.

Trump had several options on the table, that ranged from backing away from the country to stepping up US efforts to defeat the Taliban. In June he gave Mattis the power to increase troop numbers above the estimated 8,400 that have been in the country — close to 4,000 more, according to reports. 

But Mattis said he was loathe to move before he had a true picture of the numbers, which he said were actually higher than 8,400, and before Trump had his say on the broader strategy. 

"The president had to make strategic decisions," Mattis said. 

"He delegated to me, when he came in, the tactical and operational decision. He did not delegate one ounce of the strategic decision." 

"He really did come in with very different courses of action, and I think he now needs the weekend to collect his thoughts about how he's going to explain it to the American people." 

Mattis arrived in Jordan Sunday on the first day of a five-day swing through the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In Jordan he will meet with King Abdullah on regional security matters.

In Turkey he will hold discussions with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top military officials focused on the Syria conflict and the fight against the Islamic State group. In Ukraine he will discuss US support for the country's military fighting pro-Moscow rebels and attend celebrations for the country's national day.