Mattis' comments come on the same day he told lawmakers that President Donald Trump has given him the power to determine the number of troops in Afghanistan.
"Together in the inter-agency, we will define the way ahead and I will set a U.S. military commitment consistent with the commander in chief's strategic directions and his foreign policy, as dictated by Secretary of State Tillerson", Mattis told lawmakers during a hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"The Taliban had a good year last year, and they're trying to have a good one this year", Mattis said Tuesday of the anti-Afghan government militant group that has been fighting USA -led troops since 2001.
In his testimony, Mattis said US troop levels won't necessarily change immediately. In April, the president gave Mattis authority to set US troop levels in Iraq and Syria. President Trump still has not been presented with an Afghanistan strategy.
The U.S. now has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan performing two main missions: hunting and attacking violent extremists, including an Islamic State-affiliated group in eastern Afghanistan; and supporting Afghan combat forces against the Taliban. "Right now, I believe the enemy is surging". "I would refer you to Secretary Mattis at this point", White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.
American military commanders in Afghanistan and the surrounding region have requested thousands of additional boots on the ground for months to boost the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troop presence there.
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The Afghan government was assessed by the US military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of Feb 20, a almost 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
General John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, and his direct superior, head of US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, have both made cases for sending a "few thousand" more troops.
The Pentagon had considered a request for roughly 3,000 more troops, mainly for training and advising.
"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now".
Prior to the White House decision, Mattis had warned that the Taliban was surging - having claimed a series of deadly attacks, including against Afghan military bases and positions - and that America still was "not winning" in the country almost 16 years after the US-led invasion there.
Some critics see delegation of troop level decisions as a way for Trump to abdicate responsibility for decisions on America's longest war, one that has cost the lives of more than 2,000 troops. We don't know; campaign-trail Trump would only give word salad-esque answers on the subject, and the rhetoric has only gotten muddier since. The justification to lift the cap on levels ahead of the formation of an actual strategy is that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government was shaken by recent bombings in the country, and additional USA support will help stabilize the situation.