Mattis Downplays U.S. Losses in Afghanistan: Trump Strategy Set Taliban ‘Back Militarily’

Afghan alleged former Taliban fighters hand over their weapons as part of a government peace and reconciliation process in Jalalabad on February 24, 2016
AFP/File Noorullah Shirzada

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis suggested this week that the Afghan Taliban has suffered military setbacks in recent months.

While briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, Mattis stated that U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy to end the nearly 17-year Afghan war has set the Taliban “on their back foot diplomatically, militarily.”

His comments came on the same day that the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, released a report showing that terrorists, mainly the Taliban, control more districts now than during any other time since it began keeping track in November 2015.

As of the end of January, the Taliban controlled or contested 43.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, a slight increase from the group’s position as of October 2017, when the jihadists controlled or contested about 43.3 percent of the country, SIGAR revealed in its latest quarterly report to Congress.

“The Afghan government’s control of districts is at its second lowest level, and the insurgency’s at its highest level since SIGAR began receiving district control data in November 2015,” the watchdog agency noted.

The U.S. military uses the control of Afghan districts as a metric for security conditions in the country.

Asked about the spate of attacks in Kabul that have left hundreds of people dead this year alone, Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon:

The Taliban, as you know, delayed announcing their spring offensive until very recently. They were taken aback clearly by the combination of last August [when President Trump announced his strategy], say we’re going to be staying.

There have been strikes against their financial networks, and then [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani came out and said we’re willing to talk, to negotiate and it put them on their back foot. I think they’re now trying to recover in the interim.

We anticipated that they would do their best to try to bring bombs right into Kabul.  They want them reported.  They need to international media to, basically, broadcast this going on so they can undercut through those kinds of attacks, what’s obviously setting them on their back foot diplomatically, militarily. So it’s been anticipated.  There’s been a number of those attacks that have been stopped.

Regrettably, they’ve gotten through on a few, noticed that in some cases they’re targeting right down to the locations where the voting will either be going on, or it’s coordinating the registration.

Both the Taliban and its alleged rival, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), have been behind a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul this year despite the Trump administration’s unprecedented air campaign against the terrorist groups.

In March, Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, announced that the international coalition was going to enhance operations to protect the Afghan capital of Kabul.

“Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here … the Taliban are in the city. So this is a process of deliberately clearing sections of the city. That’s begun,” the top American general told reporters.

On Monday, a bombing in Kabul, which ISIS took responsibility for, killed at least 25 people, including nine journalists, marking the deadliest single attack involving reporters since 2002 “and one of the most lethal ever worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists,” the New York Times (NYT) reported.