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US Sends Fresh Troops to Afghanistan as Policy Debate Continues

  • VOA News

The Army is deploying about 1,500 soldiers to Afghanistan this week, but U.S. officials say the troop movement is not part of any increase in forces in the war zone.

Troops of the 82nd Airborne Division began leaving Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Tuesday. A U.S. military official told VOA the troops will be assigned to duty in Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand provinces, in addition to areas in the east and north of Afghanistan.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been in Afghanistan this week for meetings with Afghan and American officials as well as coalition leaders and troops. The Marine general is said to be working on the final elements of a military strategy that will include expanding the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan by nearly 4,000 soldiers.

FILE - A U.S. military personal stands guard during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops, in Lashkargah, capital of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 24, 2016.
FILE - A U.S. military personal stands guard during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops, in Lashkargah, capital of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 24, 2016.

Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said the troops leaving Fort Bragg this week are replacing a unit of the 101st Airborne Division, a regular movement to keep fresh units in the field.

President Donald Trump's administration has been considering how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan.

'Not winning' in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress two weeks ago that the United States and its NATO allies "are not winning" the fight against extremist insurgents in Afghanistan, and that a new strategy is needed. U.S. forces are helping Afghan government forces resist incursions by the Taliban as well as the Islamic State group.

"We will correct this as soon as possible," Mattis said, promising members of the Senate Armed Services Committee he would provide details of the new U.S. direction in Afghanistan by mid-July.

FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis looks out over Kabul as he arrives via helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2017.
FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis looks out over Kabul as he arrives via helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2017.

Mattis is off to Brussels on Thursday to consult with other members of the NATO alliance about troop contributions and other support in Afghanistan.

No matter what decision the Pentagon chief announces next month on how many more American troops to send to help defend the Kabul government, the strategy will still rely on Afghan forces taking the lead role in providing security around the country, analysts and U.S. officials have said.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution suggests the Trump administration's strategy will not depart significantly from former President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy.

"Mattis and Trump are just repairing a mistake, in effect, that I think President Obama made," O'Hanlon told VOA. And they are, he added, "more properly carrying out Obama's own strategy than Obama did himself."

The mistake Obama made, according to the veteran analyst, was in reducing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan from about 100,000 in May 2011 to less than 10,000 over a four-year span.

"That was probably too fast and too low," O'Hanlon told VOA. "So by restoring just a few thousand more [troops], I think we can get advisers out in the field with some of the key Afghan units and, hopefully, really stabilize the situation."

VOA's Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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