The number of U.S.-NATO-led coalition troops primarily fighting the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Afghanistan is expected to reach an estimated 25,000 troops next year, including 16,000 American service members.
The number of troops deployed so far, American military officials have indicated, is not sufficient enough to carry out U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy.
The plan’s success largely depends on an Afghan security force capable of pressuring the reluctant Taliban into a peace deal with the Kabul government.
“We fought most of the year … at the lowest level of capability that we’ve ever had in the 16 years,” U.S. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top commander of American and international troops in Afghanistan, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.
“So it was the lowest level of capability and the highest level of risk we’ve faced in this time. Part of the reason for the higher risk was [that] we’re only at 80 percent,” he continued, adding in reference to unfilled positions necessary to implement Trump’s strategy, “We were only at an 80 percent fill on our combined joint statement of requirements.”
He urged America’s international allies to help the mission reach 100 percent capability.
“We need the allies to fill these billets,” he declared, later adding, “So that Americans can do the things that only Americans can do, specifically, the use of U.S. authorities in supporting the Afghans.”
“We have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets,” emphasized Nicholson.
Acknowledging that it would not be his preferred route, Nicholson said he might have to rely on private contractors to fill some of the positions to avoid having to divert U.S. troops from the front lines to train Afghan forces.
Despite nearly $70 billion in American taxpayer funds invested on developing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) since 2001, which include police and army units, the troops continue to suffer from capability lapses.
A capable Afghan security force is essential to a Trump victory in Afghanistan, where the United States has appropriated at least $877 billion in direct war spending since the conflict started in 2001.
President Trump has requested about $50 billion for 2018.
Former U.S. Navy Seal Erik Prince is optimistic that Trump will ultimately adopt his plan to hire a private army to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Currently, there are about 21,000 U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan.
About 4,000 of the American troops have recently arrived in Afghanistan as part of Trump’s plan announced in late August, bringing the total number of U.S. forces to about 15,000.
NATO recently agreed to deploy 3,000 additional non-combat mission troops to Afghan war zone by next year, bringing the total number of U.S. allied troops to about 9,500.
The new NATO troops are only expected to be involved in training operations.
According to the Associated Press (AP), the Trump administration is expected to increase the U.S. military presence by about an additional 1,000 U.S. Army trainers to nearly 16,000 as part of his strategy.
That means there could be more than 25,000 U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan by next year.
Referring to the peak of the U.S.-led coalition’s military presence in Afghanistan around 2011, Taliban jihadists recently boasted that “150,000” troops could not beat them, let alone the smaller number there right now.
Despite the new commitments, U.S. officials have stressed that the U.S.-led mission requires more troops to succeed without providing a specific estimate for how many additional forces are necessary.
A few months after President Trump announced his strategy, U.S. and international coalition partners are still scrambling to come up with the appropriate number of troops to implement his plan, reports the New York Times (NYT), adding:
The relatively few American and international troops in Afghanistan are charged with training the Afghan military and with helping them beat back Taliban forces. With the militants at their most strongest level since the start of the war in 2001, the issue of troop levels has renewed importance.
The shortages include personnel to train parts of the Afghan security apparatus, like the Afghan special operations forces and the Afghan Air Force, both of which have been championed by American and Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani, as integral to the country’s four-year “road map” to drive violence down.
According to the most recent assessment by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, predominantly Taliban jihadists control or contest nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan.
Using SIGAR data, Breitbart News has determined that the Taliban is stronger now than at any other time since the United States toppled its regime in late 2001.