Mattis: Additional U.S. Troops 'On the Way' to Afghanistan

By Susan Jones | September 1, 2017 | 5:14 AM EDT

U.S. troops on patrol in Kandahar province, Afghanistan in 2012. (Photo: Airman Sean Martin)

( - Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters on Thursday that he has signed orders to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the process is "not complete," and he won't say how many more troops will be going until he briefs Congress next week.

"Yes, I've signed orders, but it's not complete. In other words, I've signed some of the troops that will go, and we're -- we're identifying the specific ones," Mattis told a reporters at the Pentagon.

Mattis said some of the additional troops are "on the way."

A reporter asked Mattis, "Are they combat troops or trainers?"

"Well, let me just be real clear," Mattis said. "When you go into Afghanistan and you're carrying a gun, you're going into a combat zone. I don't buy -- don't get me wrong -- the fight will still be carried by the Afghan security forces plus the 38 other allies who are there alongside us.

"It's more advisers. It's more enablers -- fire support, for example." Mattis said the goal of sending additional U.S. troops is "to enable the Afghan forces to fight more effectively."

In an Aug. 21 speech outlining his strategy in Afghanistan, President Trump said he has changed his mind about a quick troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The president announced a shift in strategy: "Conditions on the ground -- not arbitrary timetables -- will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.  I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will," Trump said.

Mattis on Thursday refused to confirm reports that he's sending an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to join the 11,000 who already are there.

He said he needs to brief Congress first: "I'm going to talk on Capitol Hill shortly...I have to go up there and talk to them first," Mattis said. "But in their role of oversight, as the representatives of the American people, I think I owe them that discussion. And so they don't have to read about it first here (in the press). It's -- it's more a sign of respect for the Congress and their role."

Mattis said if Congress hadn't been out on its August recess, he probably would have briefed lawmakers about the troop increase the day after the president's speech, then talked to reporters right after that.

"I'm not going to give you the details right now until I've talked to the Congress," he repeated.

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