In a visit to Denmark today to talk about the Afghan War, Defense Secretary James Mattis managed to skirt the entire 16-year-long war against the Taliban in the conversation, and instead sought to focus on the fight against the small ISIS affiliate in Nangarhar, which he said was going well.
Mattis conceded that ISIS is “a determined enemy” but claimed the US and Afghan security forces had taken out two thirds of their forces, and had claimed much of their territory, alone with claiming to have recently killed the emir of the ISIS affiliate.
Mattis’ upbeat assessment, and talk of territory being recovered and the Ghani government’s growing acceptance, paints the whole situation in Afghan as improving, though of course the much bigger war against the Taliban is going increasingly poorly.
Even if ISIS is losing fragments of the couple districts they held, the Taliban controls more territory than they have at any other time in the war, and that’s a significant chunk of Afghanistan as a whole. The Taliban has been consistently taking territory from the Afghan government in several regions.
It is these mounting losses that have Mattis and the rest of the Pentagon pushing for more deployments of US ground troops to Afghanistan, to try to slow the losses. Having US and NATO troops headed to a losing battle in an unwinnable war would be unpopular, of course, so Mattis is instead trying to emphasize a much smaller ISIS conflict.
That ISIS conflict isn’t so great either, despite appearances, as the Afghan government has claimed ISIS to have been “wiped out” in Afghanistan multiple times already, and they keep coming back.
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