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What Mattis left out of his testimony

Alex Brandon / AP

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed that President Trump had given the Department of Defense the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan.

Bloomberg's Eli Lake, one of the best-sourced reporters covering the administration's national security team, has written a column on the machinations behind Mattis' Afghanistan announcement. In the article, which is worth reading in full, Lake argues that Trump stands out among recent presidents because "he's agreed in principle to sending more troops to Afghanistan, but he has yet to agree to the broader strategy for winning America's longest war."

Between the lines: In his statement, Mattis describes the troop-level decision as "part of a broader strategy we are developing...[which we will] present to the President in the coming weeks." Lake says that's technically correct but misses the larger truth:

  • The strategy's broad outlines, "an increase in special operations forces to train, advise and assist Afghan forces; a more robust plan to go after elements in Pakistan that aid the Taliban; the deployment of more air power and artillery; and a political commitment to the survival of the current government in Kabul — have been in place since April."
  • "Indeed, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has been pressing the case for the strategy with cabinet secretaries and the president. Initially he had hoped to get the president to agree to the strategy before last month's NATO summit."

The kicker: Lake points out that during Mattis' hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain told the Defense Secretary "it makes it hard for us to support you when we don't have a strategy." ... "Mattis replied that a strategy was being put together now ... What Mattis didn't say is why McCain has yet to see Trump's Afghanistan strategy: because Trump hasn't agreed to the one his top advisers prepared more than two months ago."