Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced the Trump administration's new strategy for Afghanistan during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
The new strategy is the product of a months-long review of current Afghanistan policy by the Pentagon. In typical military fashion, Mattis gave the strategy an acronym: R4+S, which stands for regionalize, realign, reconcile and sustain. The strategy will attempt to break what Army Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, referred to as a "stalemate."
"We must always remember, we are in Afghanistan to make American safer and ensure south Asia cannot be used to plot trans-national attacks against the U.S. homeland or our partners and allies," said Mattis in his written opening statement provided to Circa. "Our goal is a stable and secure south Asia."
According to Mattis, the "regionalize" portion of the strategy is focused not only on Afghanistan, but the entire south Asia region. Neighboring countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China were taken into consideration when formulating the new strategy. He thanked India for its "generous development support in Afghanistan," and chastised Pakistan, India's mortal enemy and a U.S. ally.
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"We will firmly address Pakistan's role," said Mattis. "NATO's demands need to be heard and embraced in Islamabad."
Mattis' tough talk towards Pakistan mirrors that of President Donald Trump, who has chastised the country for providing "safe havens to terrorist organizations."
The "realign" portion of the strategy aims to use military advisers at the battalion and brigade levels, giving the Afghan military access to U.S. support at a more localized and tactical level. Mattis admitted these advisers would be in a combat role, but that the majority of the fighting would be done by the Afghans themselves. He also noted there are currently approximately 11,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in addition to 6,8000 NATO forces.
The "reinforce" effort will aim to provide Afghan forces with more NATO advisers, including and additional 3,000 U.S. troops who will arrive in the coming months. Mattis noted that he and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are pushing NATO members to increase their troop commitments. So far, 15 nations have agreed to do so.
"Reconcile" is the goal of the military operation in Afghanistan: ensuring a "conditions-based outcome" to achieve a peace deal with the Taliban.
"Our goal is a stabilized Afghanistan, archived through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process," said Mattis.
Thus far, attempts to achieve a peace deal with the Taliban have consistently failed. Afghan and U.S. forces have had success in hold population centers in the country, but the Taliban contests or control 45% of Afghan districts, according to Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski of the Long War Journal.
"This urban focus underestimates the Taliban and its strategy to leverage control of rural areas to launch attacks against urban centers," said Roggio and Gutowski in a post for LWJ.
Despite past setbacks, Mattis expressed optimism for the new strategy.
"We're already starting to see the psychological impact of this new strategy, both militarily in the field as well as through President Ghani and the Afghan government's commitment to reform," said Mattis.