NATO is expected to spend more on defense and increase its military presence in Afghanistan by “a few thousand more troops,” said the alliance’s chief, insisting that the coalition troops will not participate in combat operations.
“Our military authorities have requested a few thousand more troops for the mission in Afghanistan and today, I can confirm that we will increase our presence in Afghanistan,” declared NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels Thursday, reports the Washington Examiner.
“Fifteen nations have already pledged additional contributions to Resolute Support mission,” he added.
This year, President Donald Trump blasted NATO for not “paying their fair share” of defense costs, adding that the alliance needs to do more to combat Islamic terrorism, namely the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), which has established a presence in Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg revealed that U.S. NATO allies are projected to spend an additional $12 billion on defense this year, adding that 25 of the 29 members aim to raise defense spending in 2017.
His comments follow revelations that the Trump administration plans to deploy an estimated 4,000 additional American service members.
“We have to put this into context and understand that this is about training, assisting and advising the Afghan forces. NATO has ended our combat operation in Afghanistan,” said Stoltenberg. “What we do now is not to conduct combat operations but to help the Afghans fight and to help the Afghans take full responsibility for the security in their own country.”
“We see a need for some more effort and some more support from NATO to the Afghans,” he mentioned. “This is not about turning back into a combat mission, but this is about adjusting, strengthening the train, assist and advise mission we have in Afghanistan.”
After the meeting at the alliance’s headquarters on Thursday, U.S Secretary of Defense James Mattis criticized the decision by former President Barack Obama and NATO pull out most of their troops from Afghanistan before declaring the combat mission in the country over at the end of 2014.
“Looking back on it, it’s pretty much a consensus that we may have pulled our troops out too rapidly, reduced the numbers a little too rapidly,” Mattis told reporters.
Clashes with the Taliban and other jihadist groups forced the depleted U.S. service members to engage in combat even after Obama ended the combat mission, noted the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency.
As of the end of March, at least 14,800 troops were serving in Afghanistan, including an estimated 8,300 American forces and more than 6,500 from 39 NATO allies and non-NATO partners, reported SIGAR.
In February 2016, U.S. Gen. John Campbell, who was serving as the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan at the time, revealed that Obama had taken away his authority to offensively target the Taliban, suggesting that the United Sates military had to wait for the terrorists to fire first before engaging.
In a move that annuls restrictions put in place by his predecessor and allows the military to make more battlefield decisions on its own, President Trump granted U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis the latitude to set troop levels and the level of engaged at the Pentagon’s discretion.
Secretary Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, who served in Afghanistan, has vowed to unveil a new Afghanistan war strategy by “mid-July.”
President Trump inherited deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan, primarily fueled by the Taliban.
By the time former President Obama left office, the Taliban had captured more territory than during any other time since the U.S. military removed the group from power in 2001.
Afghan security forces and civilians suffered a record number of casualties during the former American commander-in-chief’s tenure.
The Taliban currently controls or contests about 35 percent of Afghanistan, reports the Pentagon, noting that most of the territory under the terrorist organization’s control lies in provinces that border Pakistan, considered a jihadi sanctuary.
Trump administration officials are reportedly considering increasing pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting terrorist groups fighting U.S troops and their allies in neighboring Afghanistan.