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US Defense Secretary: For First Time, Afghan Military Fully Involved in Conflict

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U.S. Defense Secretary: For the First Time, Afghan Military Fully Involved in Conflict
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United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has announced that, for the first time, the Afghanistan military is fully involved in the war with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mattis spoke with members of the U.S. Senate this week about the Trump administration’s Southeast Asia strategy.

He said, “For the first time in 16 years, we have all six Afghan army corps on the offensive at the same time.”

Mattis admitted that the Afghan forces have taken heavy losses in the fighting. But he said they are suffering fewer losses than they did last year. The decrease in losses could be a sign suggesting that the forces are improving their combat abilities, he said.

Trump administration strategy

Mattis also noted that under President Trump, international forces have launched more airstrikes against enemy forces than in any other year since 2012. One reason is because restrictions preventing strikes on insurgents beyond a certain distance from American or Afghan forces have been lifted.

The Trump administration announced its new Afghanistan strategy in August. The plan added about 3,000 American troops and additional NATO coalition partners to the Afghan fight. Most of those troops will advise and assist Afghan forces.

“Afghan special forces that have our trainers, they have won every time they fought the enemy,” said Mattis. “Those without have not won.”

He added that American and NATO airstrikes will let Afghan forces be “bolder” in combat.

“When they go into the fight, no longer will they worry about the high ground,” Mattis stated. “Having fought in mountainous country, it’s unpleasant to have the enemy above you … NATO airstrikes overhead denies the enemy ever having the high ground."

Still not enough?

But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, told lawmakers at the hearing that the progress that has been made is still not enough. He said military pressure from Afghanistan and its international partners is not close to bringing a “successful political solution.”

Dunford argued that the international effort must be “long-term,” taking at least six or seven years. That is the time required to fully train the Afghan air force to fight the enemy forces in the country.

Republican Senator and Vietnam prisoner of war John McCain has also criticized the lack of progress in Afghanistan. He said, “After 16 years, should the taxpayers of America be satisfied that we are still in a stalemate? I don’t think so.”

McCain was talking about a comment the top commander on the ground made earlier this year. U.S. Army General John Nicholson asked for more troops to help break what he called the “stalemate” in America’s longest war.

Mattis said that political reconciliation with the Taliban is still the goal. As long as the Taliban stops killing people, lives by the Afghan constitution and breaks with international terrorists there will be no more conflict, he added.​

Other powers

The United States’ new Afghan strategy aims to focus on the major powers in the area, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

For example, U.S. leaders want Pakistan to prevent terrorists from using their territory to escape pressure in Afghanistan.

Mattis said this week that places where terrorists feel safe must be removed. Otherwise keeping the area in good condition will be "highly difficult."

Members of Congress also asked Chairman Dunford about the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI. Dunford told the Senate committee that it was "clear" that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups.

So far, the U.S. has been working alone to push Pakistan toward removing its areas that are safe for terrorists. But Dunford suggested that America should use the nearly 40 nations of the coalition in Afghanistan to do so. Also it should ask other powers in the area, such as China and India, to better urge Pakistan to do more to fight terrorism, he said.

Mattis expressed concern that Russia is also acting in ways that work against the coalition's fight to defeat the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida.

“If there's an opportunity to, you know, poke us in the eye, they'll do it,” Mattis said. “Even if it's against their own interest.”

I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Pete Musto.

Carla Babb reported this for VOA News. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. What do you think the best action the United States can take in Afghanistan is? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

strategyn. a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

corpsn. a large military group consisting of two or more divisions

airstrike(s) – n. an attack in which military airplanes drop bombs

insurgent(s) – n. a person who fights against an established government or authority

certainadj. used to refer to something or someone that is not named specifically

bolderadj. less afraid of danger or difficult situations than before

stalematen. a contest, dispute, or competition in which neither side can gain an advantage or win

reconciliationn. the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement

opportunityn. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

pokev. to push your finger or something thin or pointed into or at someone or something