Pentagon sees more 'agility' with new power on Afghan troops levels

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s decision to empower the Pentagon to set troop levels in Afghanistan will increase the U.S. military’s agility, giving U.S. forces greater latitude to “provide air power and other vital support,” the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

“The delegation of this authority does not in itself change the force levels for Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

“This will enable our military to have greater agility to conduct operations.”

There currently are about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, Mattis dismissed the prospect of a return to the major U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan, which peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011 during the Obama administration.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that U.S President Donald Trump had given Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, opening the door for future troop increases.

The decision is similar to one announced in April that applied to U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria. Mattis has warned Congress the U.S.-backed Afghan forces were not beating the Taliban despite more than 15 years of war.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Bill Trott