[00:00.00]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.
[00:15.37]Mattis spoke with members of the U.S. Senate this week about the Trump administration’s Southeast Asia strategy.
[00:24.77]He said, “For the first time in 16 years, we have all six Afghan army corps on the offensive at the same time.”
[00:35.42]Mattis admitted that the Afghan forces have taken heavy losses in the fighting.
[00:42.58]But he said they are suffering fewer losses than they did last year.
[00:48.89]The decrease in losses could be a sign suggesting that the forces are improving their combat abilities, he said.
[00:58.71]Mattis also noted that under President Trump, international forces have launched more airstrikes against enemy forces than in any other year since 2012.
[01:13.08]One reason is because restrictions preventing strikes on insurgents beyond a certain distance from American or Afghan forces have been lifted.
[01:25.28]The Trump administration announced its new Afghanistan strategy in August.
[01:32.83]The plan added about 3,000 American troops and additional NATO coalition partners to the Afghan fight.
[01:42.32]Most of those troops will advise and assist Afghan forces.
[01:48.00]“Afghan special forces that have our trainers, they have won every time they fought the enemy,” said Mattis. “Those without have not won.”
[02:01.39]He added that American and NATO airstrikes will let Afghan forces be “bolder” in combat.
[02:10.70]“When they go into the fight, no longer will they worry about the high ground,” Mattis stated.
[02:17.88]“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."
[02:30.52]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.
[02:42.94]He said military pressure from Afghanistan and its international partners is not close to bringing a “successful political solution.”
[02:53.82]Dunford argued that the international effort must be “long-term,” taking at least six or seven years.
[03:03.93]That is the time required to fully train the Afghan air force to fight the enemy forces in the country.
[03:12.37]Republican Senator and Vietnam prisoner of war John McCain has also criticized the lack of progress in Afghanistan.
[03:23.48]He said, “After 16 years, should the taxpayers of America be satisfied that we are still in a stalemate? I don’t think so.”
[03:34.57]McCain was talking about a comment the top commander on the ground made earlier this year.
[03:42.65]U.S. Army General John Nicholson asked for more troops to help break what he called the “stalemate” in America’s longest war.
[03:53.53]Mattis said that political reconciliation with the Taliban is still the goal.
[04:00.35]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.
[04:13.39]The United States’ new Afghan strategy aims to focus on the major powers in the area, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.
[04:26.96]For example, U.S. leaders want Pakistan to prevent terrorists from using their territory to escape pressure in Afghanistan.
[04:38.88]Mattis said this week that places where terrorists feel safe must be removed.
[04:45.83]Otherwise keeping the area in good condition will be "highly difficult."
[04:51.92]Members of Congress also asked Chairman Dunford about the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI.
[05:03.24]Dunford told the Senate committee that it was "clear" that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups.
[05:11.27]So far, the U.S. has been working alone to push Pakistan toward removing its areas that are safe for terrorists.
[05:21.12]But Dunford suggested that America should use the nearly 40 nations of the coalition in Afghanistan to do so.
[05:30.51]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.
[05:43.04]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.
[05:56.22]“If there's an opportunity to, you know, poke us in the eye, they'll do it,” Mattis said.
[06:04.27]“Even if it's against their own interest.”
[06:08.09]I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Pete Musto.