In recent weeks, the United States deployed additional forces into Afghanistan — a move that coincided with the announcement of Trump’s strategy — to help bolster Afghan forces during the final months of this year’s fighting season. The immediate surge was a short-term solution, requested by battlefield commanders, but the Pentagon is still assessing how U.S. troops will be deployed in the country in 2018, according to a U.S. official in Afghanistan.
Speaking to a small group of reporters, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, said that he expects to have a “full picture” on NATO commitments by October.
“There is still a lack of clarity which positions, which functions, to focus their contributions,” said Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Speaking at a news conference here, Pavel added that the recently announced U.S. strategy provides a clearer picture of the way forward, but the alliance won’t make final troop decisions until another conference in October.
With the military mission in Afghanistan primarily focused on training the Afghan military, the United States wants its NATO allies to take up the bulk of that role, freeing up U.S. forces to push closer to the front. The U.S. military in Afghanistan has the infrastructure, including fire support and medical evacuation capabilities, to move its troops forward, to not only train and advise but also assist — through airstrikes and artillery — their struggling Afghan counterparts, the official said.
The Pentagon’s recent reluctance to discuss additional troop numbers is likely linked with the fact that NATO has yet to say if it will completely agree to Gen. John Nicholson’s requests. U.S. officials, however, have repeatedly said that enough troops will deploy to Afghanistan in the coming months to bring the total number of U.S. troops in the country to around 14,000. Aside from the additional troops, the increase will likely bring more air support and artillery units to help push back the Taliban and protect U.S. forces on the ground.
In addition to advising the Afghan military, U.S. forces also conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Ten U.S. troops have been killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan in 2017, the majority of whom were fighting Islamic State militants in the country’s east. On Friday, a Romanian soldier was killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar. More than 2,000 Americans have died since the United States invaded in 2001, though Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, with more than 1,500 killed this year alone, according to the United Nations.