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Mattis Says U.S. Needs ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Afghanistan

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/9/2019 David Wainer and David Westin

(Bloomberg) -- Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said America needs to keep forces in Afghanistan for now to prevent terrorists including al-Qaeda from regrouping and posing a threat to the U.S.

Mattis’s comments come after President Donald Trump said Saturday that he canceled secret meetings with Taliban leaders and the president of Afghanistan, set for Sunday at Camp David, and discontinued peace negotiations after a U.S. soldier was killed. The proposal was expected to pave the way for the U.S. to start pulling some of its 14,000 troops out of the country.

But Mattis said Monday in an interview on Bloomberg Television that the U.S. can’t leave Afghanistan’s forces alone to fight terrorists and hold the country together.

“We cannot do that right now without boots on the ground,” Mattis said. “We’re going to have to stick with those countries that are not yet ready to do it on their own and keep enough boots on the ground, probably the number dropping year by year as they mature, but enough boots on the ground not to simply turn the ground back over to the very enemy that attacked us before.”

Mattis, who has just published a book on leadership called “Call Sign Chaos,” resigned in December after Trump announced he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, a plan he later scaled back. In a two-page letter at the time, Mattis criticized the president’s treatment of longtime U.S. allies and implied that Trump’s approach to strategic rivals Russia and China has been ambiguous.

In the interview on Monday, Mattis said it’s crucial to work with allies to stabilize safe havens for terrorists.

Earlier this month at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mattis indirectly criticized the Trump administration’s current push for an accord with the Taliban by comparing it to former President Barack Obama’s troop drawdown from Iraq, which he sees as a strategic blunder that let Islamic State terrorists flourish.

“We can declare the war over but the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “The idea that we can now turn our back to this threat and that we’re going to live in an island in the global community unaffected by it just doesn’t match. We’re going to have to learn from our past.”

--With assistance from Caitlin Webber.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Wainer in New York at;David Westin in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at, Joshua Gallu

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