- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2017

NATO members have agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan, the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration is also preparing to expand its forces in the Southwest Asian nation.

Alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement during his opening remarks for Thursday’s NATO ministerial at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels. “Today, I can confirm we will increase our presence in Afghanistan,” he told attendees at the ministerial, including Defense Secretary James Mattis.

President Trump and members of his national security team had been working with the alliance over the last several months, to secure NATO support for a proposed increase of 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops into Afghan war, which is entering its 16th year. The plan also reportedly will allow American forces to take a larger role in Afghan-led combat operations against the Taliban and Islamic State in the country.

Should NATO members match that proposed increase, as many as 10,000 U.S. and allied troops could be heading into Afghanistan over the next several months. But Mr. Stoltenberg reassured allied nations that the NATO troop increases did not mean the alliance’s forces were returning to the front lines in Afghanistan.

“We have to put this into context and understand this about training and assisting and advising Afghan forces,” he said. “What we do now is not conduct combat operations, but help Afghans fight.” Earlier this year U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel and Gen. John Nicholson, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, have both said the Afghan war has entered a stalemate.

Earlier this year, President Trump met with Mr. Stoltenberg and other top NATO leaders, in an attempt to secure commitments from the alliance on Afghanistan.

Up until Thursday, NATO’s response to a U.S. troop increase had been lukewarm, spurred on by a combination of war weariness over Afghanistan and the alliance being at odds with the White House over members’ contributions to Europe’s common defense.

The White House has granted authority to Mr. Mattis to set future troop levels for Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. mission to battle Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — an issue where the Pentagon had frequently found itself at odds with the Obama administration. Mr. Mattis expects to have a Afghan proposal ready for White House by mid-July.

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