Defense ministers from across the NATO alliance agreed on Thursday (9 November 2017) to increase the size of NATO’s Resolute Support training mission in Afghanistan following a meeting in Brussels to review next steps in the Afghanistan conflict and brainstorm ways to deal with the 16-year-old security crisis.
It said it would be sending some 3,000 extra troops to the war-torn country, bringing the Western military footprint up to about 16,000 soldiers.
The additional troops, most of them American, will help train and advise local Afghan forces who have struggled to hold the Taliban at bay while suffering heavy casualties.
Speaking ahead of the NATO defense ministers summit in Brussels, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would boost its presence "to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a clear message to Taliban to the insurgents that they will not win on the battleground".
NATO leaders are optimistic that 2018 could see Afghan forces start to gain momentum against the Taliban, thanks to renewed training efforts, a growing air force and thousands of extra Afghan commandos.
Plus US President Donald Trump has given American forces greater leeway in how and when they can hit the Taliban, and Afghan forces are increasingly going on the offensive.
Immediately following the NATO summit, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hosted a separate meeting with partners from the coalition fighting the ISIS group in the Middle East, where the jihadists continue to lose territory.
Mattis said coalition partners are looking to the United States for a clear plan about what follows the physical defeat of ISIS.
"Maybe three-quarters of the questions I am getting asked now is (about) going forward. It's not about are we going to be able to stop ISIS, are we going to be able to overcome ISIS. They are now saying: 'What's next? How is it looking?'" Mattis told reporters this week using another acronym for the group.
Following back-to-back losses, including of their Syrian and Iraqi strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul, ISIS fighters are down to defending their last holdouts along the Euphrates River valley.
Meanwhile, the commander of NATO forces in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, on Thursday demanded Russia "stop meddling" in European elections, amid concerns about Kremlin interference in the Catalan crisis.
"It should stop meddling in other nations, (in) what is their sovereign right to determine their government and how it works," he told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.
"It is something that we've seen in the United States, we've seen it in a number of countries here in the elections of late," Scaparrotti said when asked about claims of Russian interference in Catalonia.