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Mattis Has Officially Been Given Full Control Of The War In Afghanistan
President Donald Trump has handed over authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, The Washington Post reports, a move that all but ensures that thousands more service members will soon deploy to a 16-year-old war that Mattis recently acknowledged the U.S. is losing.
Trump’s decision was announced on June 14, the same day Mattis delivered a blunt assessment of the war in Afghanistan to lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said, promising a finalized strategy for turning the conflict around by mid-July.
There are currently 8,400 American service members and 5,000 additional NATO forces in Afghanistan. The bulk of the forces are focused on training and advising Afghan troops, while U.S. Special Operations forces are also waging a more direct campaign against a local ISIS affiliate in the country’s eastern provinces.
At the height of the occupation in 2010, there were 100,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has been pushing for increased troop levels since February, when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “a few thousand” more would make it possible for coalition forces to carry out airstrikes against Taliban targets and advise Afghan troops closer to the front lines. Nicholson described the war as a “stalemate.” The Trump administration is also asking NATO partners to commit more troops to the fight.
DoD and White House officials have not publicly discussed official troop numbers for the looming surge. "We have nothing to announce on troop levels," a DoD spokesman told Task & Purpose.
But according to Mattis himself, outright military might likely won’t end the conflict. During a visit to Afghanistan in April, the secretary of defense explained that the goal of renewed coalition efforts in the country would be to pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. That was the same goal of the 2010 troop surge, which resulted in a massive spike in U.S. casualties but no peace deal with the Taliban.
Mattis seemed to reiterate his support for such a strategy in a White House cabinet meeting on June 12, stating that military leaders “are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength.”
The Taliban has spread across Afghanistan since the NATO combat mission there officially ended in December 2014, seizing key towns and provinces that were once under coalition control and inflicting massive casualties on Afghan national forces, which are now struggling to entice new recruits to their ranks. Afghan forces suffered more than 15,000 casualties, including more than 5,000 dead, in the first eight months of 2016, according to the Washington Post.
The civilian population has also suffered profoundly as a result of failing security in Afghanistan. 3,000 Afghans were killed in 2016. That’s the highest death toll for civilians since at least 2009, when the United Nations began tracking casualty numbers.
Trump appears to be opting for a mostly hands-off approach in his role as commander-in-chief. The president recently gave Mattis similar authority to determine troop levels in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S. military and its allies are fighting a protracted war to degrade and destroy ISIS, and has also relaxed constraints on Special Operations forces operating in Somalia and Yemen, according to The New York Times.
The president has been notably reticent on the worsening situation in Afghanistan since taking office in January, a fact that Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the committee’s chairman, alluded to in the hearing. “We’re now six months into this administration,” he said. “We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy.”
Mattis responded by saying that “actions [are] being taken to make certain that we don’t pay a price for the delay,” which, as the Times noted, may suggest that troops will begin deploying before the strategy is finalized.
“The Taliban had a good year last year, and they’re trying to have a good one this year,” Mattis said. “Right now, I believe the enemy is surging.”
Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.
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President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."
Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."
"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."
First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.
"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."
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