June 13 (UPI) — Defense Secretary James Mattis had strong words for a Senate committee Tuesday: The United States and its allies “are not winning in Afghanistan right now.”
Mattis’ comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee come one day after he criticized the House’s Armed Services Committee for not providing enough military resources.
But regarding problems in Afghanistan, Mattis pledged to the Senators “we will correct this as soon as possible.”
“I believe by mid-July, we’ll be able to brief you in detail,” Mattis said. “We’re putting it together now and … there are actions being taken to make certain that we don’t pay a price for the delay. But we recognize the need for urgency, and your criticism is fair.”
The former Marine Corps general said that “we recognize the need for urgency.”
The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, has said that several thousand more are needed to support the Afghan security forces.
More than 2,300 Americans have been killed and more than 17,000 injured since the war began in 2001 and the Taliban was ousted. The U.S.-backed Afghan government has been fighting Taliban insurgents since then.
Committee Chairman John McCain criticized the administration’s efforts in Afghanistan.
“We want a strategy, and I don’t think that’s a hell of a lot to ask,” said McCain, an Arizona Republican who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. “We’re now six months into this administration. We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy. We know what the strategy was for the last eight years: Don’t lose.”
McCain said senators will “start getting more vocal in our criticism” if a plan isn’t delivered soon.
“I was confident that within the first 30 to 60 days we would have a strategy from which to start working,” McCain said. “So all I can tell you is that unless we get a strategy from you, you’re going to get a strategy from us.”
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., asked what “winning” in Afghanistan would mean. Mattis said forces should “handle the violence” there.
On Monday night, Mattis criticized Congress for not repealing defense spending caps imposed under the 2011 Budget Control Act. He said “no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration.”
Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee that Congress hurts military readiness by using continuing resolutions to fund the Department of Defense rather than passing a full budget and not repealing sequestration.
In his opening remarks, he said: “During nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate continuing resolutions upon the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges. In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration, Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role.”
Mattis said the continuing resolutions and sequestration “blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk. Despite the tremendous efforts of this committee, Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership.”
President Donald Trump’s base budget falls short of the $640 billion the Defense Department wants to add troops, aircraft and ships, and end a readiness crisis.
Mattis said that the funding gets the military “back on its feet” and it’s $52 billion above the $549 billion permitted by the BCA caps.