There are currently about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan assisting in the nation’s fight against ISIS and the Taliban. Control of that number has just been handed over to Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, who in April gained control over US troop levels in Syria and Iraq.
Despite more than 15 years of war, US-backed forces in Afghanistan are still not beating the Taliban. “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” said Mattis to Congress on Tuesday. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.”
More than 2,300 Americans have been killed since the beginning of the war in 2001. Another 17,000 have been wounded. Three more died last Saturday when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them.
Army General John Nicholson, who leads US forces in Afghanistan, has called the situation a “stalemate.” In February, he asked for “a few thousand” additional forces.
Rumor has it officials are considering sending between 2,000 and 5,000 troops to his aid, an increase that would put our military presence in Afghanistan far below its 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.
Mattis says the Taliban are “surging.”
According to an assessment by the US military, the Afghan government controls just 59.7% of the country – about 10% less than it did a year ago.
The US has a dire need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around,” argues Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Armed Forces Committee.
Secretary Mattis has promised to announce a new war strategy by mid-July. We expect it will call for thousands more troops.
The Opium Problem
It’s important to remember that Afghanistan produces about 80% of the world’s opium. In many ways the situation is like that in Colombia, where drug lords have a vested interest in keeping the country in chaos.
According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, the amount of land in Afghanistan being used to grow opium has increased by 10% since 2016.
Opium production, which in 2016 reached an estimated 4,800 tons, is equivalent to about 16% of Afghanistan’s GDP.
“The illicit economy is fueling insecurity, violence, and insurgency among other problems to discourage private and public investment in Afghanistan,” reads the report.
Authorities believe there is a “symbiotic relationship” between opium traffickers and the Taliban insurgency. In December, General John Nicholson claimed opium profits were responsible for funding up to 60% of the insurgency.