U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that American forces in Afghanistan face “a determined enemy” but are dealing significant blows to the enemy.
Speaking at a news conference in Copenhagen alongside his Danish counterpart, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, Mattis said both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida are losing ground and power in Afghanistan as the government, under President Ashraf Ghani, “ wins the affection, the respect and the support” of the people.
“In Afghanistan, the enemy has lost about two-thirds of its strength and this past weekend, President Ghani announced the death of the emir of IS Khorasan — this is the IS group in Nangarhar…,” Mattis said. “In our anti-IS campaign, we’re dealing that group one more significant blow with the loss of their leader.”
U.S. and Afghan officials announced recently that Abdul Hasib, the head of so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan, had been killed in a military raid. He was believed to have been behind an attack that killed 50 people in a Kabul military hospital earlier this year.
Mattis said the United States will continue integrating its military and non-military efforts in Afghanistan and do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.
“We have to remember that the battlefield that we are fighting on is also a humanitarian field where innocent people live right now, sometimes forced to stay on a battlefield by IS,” he said.
The comments from Mattis come as U.S. media report the Trump administration may significantly increase the number of U.S. troops and intensity of the fight in Afghanistan.
According to reports, Trump is weighing whether to send as many as 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops stationed in the country.
The reports say the plan would give the Pentagon, not the White House, the final say on the number of troops in Afghanistan, while the U.S. military would have greater range in using airstrikes to target Taliban fighters and remove Obama-era policies limiting the movements of military advisers in the country.
Trump will reportedly make a decision on the Afghanistan policy prior to a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels.