American troop deployments to Afghanistan to support the Trump administration’s new strategy there have lagged due to the military's ongoing support of hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, a top U.S. general said Thursday.
Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, Jr. categorized the delays as “minor,” adding that some forces were flowing into Afghanistan but the number of American troops there remains “in the vicinity of 11,000.”
He explained the delays are due in part to the U.S. military having a finite number of transport aircraft, some of which were moved to transport relief items to Puerto Rico and help with other aid activities on the island.
“That will inevitably slow movement to other theaters and (cause) the slight delay in the flow of forces to Afghanistan,” he said.
In addition, the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, has delayed its deployment to the Pacific due to its role in rescue-and-relief efforts in the Caribbean.
“Secretary (Jim Mattis) said we're ‘all in’ to help Puerto Rico, and there are just going to be downstream effects when you make those decisions,” he said, adding that helping American citizens such as those in Puerto Rico is a “very high priority” for the Pentagon.
The United States is sending about 3,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan to advise and assist Afghan forces in the field down to the brigade level.
Defense Secretary Mattis told lawmakers earlier this week that these advisors will be authorized to call in U.S. and coalition airstrikes to support the ground operations, allowing the Afghan forces to be “bolder” in combat knowing that American and NATO air power will be there to strike the Taliban and other militants on the battlefield.
“Make no mistake, this is combat duty,” Mattis said Tuesday, “but the Afghan forces remain in the lead to do the fighting.”