US defense secretary orders new troops to Afghanistan

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Washington (AFP) - The Pentagon has ordered new troops to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday, 10 days after President Donald Trump announced a surge in US forces to battle advances by the Taliban.

"Yes, I've signed orders" for fresh deployments, Mattis told reporters, without specifying how many.

"By and large, this is to enable the Afghan force to fight more effectively."

On August 21, Trump announced a new Afghanistan policy to knock back the Taliban that could see thousands more US troops deployed, on top of the 11,000 there now.

The decision came after a deep review of strategy in which US military leaders convinced Trump to back off his election campaign pledge to pull out of the war-torn country.

Mattis said the added troops, which could eventually approach 4,000, according to some estimates, were not yet underway.

"I just signed the order, it's going to take a couple days," he said.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the bulk of the additions will be paratroopers from two units, the 82nd Airborne Division and a brigade from the 25th Infantry Division.

The Post also said the surge will include more F-16 fighter jets, A-10 attack aircraft and expanded support from the B-52 bomber fleet based in Qatar.

Mattis continued to avoid questions on the total of new troops to be added to the 16-year-old war, or provide details of the overall strategy, saying he preferred to brief Congress first next week.

US generals have for months been calling the situation in Afghanistan a "stalemate," despite years of support for Afghan partners and an overall cost to the United States of about $1 trillion.

The new Afghan strategy will take a page from successful US efforts over the past two years to strengthen Iraqi security forces against the Islamic State group with better training, logistical support and the battlefield backup of US artillery and air strikes on enemy positions.