New Afghanistan Strategy – Mattis & Dunford Testimony on Oct 3, 2017

new Afghanistan strategy - General Dunford testifies before the House Armed Services Committee about the Afghanistan conflict on October 3, 2017. (Photo by DoD)
General Dunford testifies before the House Armed Services Committee about the Afghanistan conflict on October 3, 2017. (Photo by DoD)

The new Afghanistan strategy was laid out by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and General Joe Dunford during six hours of testimony before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Tuesday, October 3, 2017.

Opening Statements. At the beginning of the Senate testimony Senator McCain, presiding over the event, lamented the lack of transparency by the Trump administration on not providing “the crucial details” of his new Afghanistan strategy to the Senate. He was not pleased that the key witnesses (Mattis and Dunford) did not provide prepared written testimony prior to the hearing.

SECDEF Mattis. The Secretary of Defense outlined his current assessment of the conflict in Afghanistan – which was generally positive. He said that all six Afghan corps were on the offensive against the Taliban. Mattis outlined the new Afghanistan strategy by introducing a new acronym – R4&S. [1] He went on to emphasize the continued support of NATO and Coalition partner nations involved in the fight. He estimated current troop levels at 11,000 U.S., 6,800 NATO / Partner Nations, and about 320,000 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). He believed that the new Trump administration’s strategy has provided renewed confidence in the Afghan government and military that they will be supported by the U.S. and NATO over the long-term.

General Dunford. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and former International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan) provided his thoughts on the current military and political situation in Afghanistan in his opening statement. He addressed the ‘stalemate’ aspect of the current Afghan conflict and that “. . . we are not winning.” Dunford said that the advisory construct of working at only corps and institutional level (except for SOF) did not provide an adequate level of support to the ANDSF to allow them to succeed. He believes that we drew down the advisory effort in Afghanistan “. . . too far and too fast.” The U.S. also diminished the aviation, fires, and intelligence support to insignificant levels. As a result “. . . the Taliban expanded territorial and population control . . .”

New Operational Approach.┬áThe new strategy is supported by Resolute Support’s expanded advisory effort (down to tactical level of conventional Afghan units), increases combat support (artillery and air support), and enhances authorities to U.S. military leaders to engage in combat operations. The emphasis is to provide operational support to the Afghan combat units.

Four-Year Plan. The new approach will assist the Afghans in the reorganization of the ANDSF as outlined in the Afghan four-year plan. This reorganization includes the expansion of Afghan Special Security Forces (SOF), increasing the capability of the Afghan Air Force (AAF), curtailing corruption [2] within the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI), and developing competent Afghan military and police leadership.

Expansion of U.S. CT. In addition, the United States will increase its counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan to continue to target al Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorsan Province (ISKP). A part of the U.S. strategy is for Afghanistan to be a CT platform for the region.

U.S. Military Objectives. Dunford outlined several military objectives of the new Afghanistan strategy and new operational approach.

Defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorasan Province in Afghanistan and ensure other terrorist groups do not establish operational bases from where they can attack U.S. interests or the U.S Homeland.

Further develop the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces so that they can contain residual violence with limited international support.

Ensure that key population areas and economic centers are secure from insurgent attacks.

Provide for an enduring counterterrorism partnership with the Afghan special operations forces to protect U.S interests in South Asia.

Projection of Success. The briefers, Mattis and Dunford, provided optimistic statements on how this new strategy and new operational approach should result in success by the ANDSF on the battlefield next Spring. Hmmmm. Time will tell.


[1] The R4&S acronym stands for regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile, and sustain. See the -1:14 minute mark of the Senate testimony (Part 1) at the link below for more on R4&S.

[2] Dunford called corruption “. . . the single greatest roadblock to progress”.


You can view the video of the over six hours of testimony at the links below:



About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.