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The Latest: Mattis to decide troop levels in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sets his briefcase down before he testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense budget for the 2018 budget year, on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 12, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ testimony before Congress (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

Several U.S. officials say President Donald Trump has given his defense secretary the authority to make decisions on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, amid repeated calls from commanders for more forces.

The decision, which has been in the works for weeks, was finalized Tuesday. U.S. officials confirmed it just hours after senators berated Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for failing to complete an updated combat strategy for the Afghanistan war.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the decision publicly before an official announcement, say the move gives Mattis the ability to adjust troop levels more quickly. Trump gave Mattis similar authority in Iraq and Syria.

The move allows Mattis to end the current cap on Afghanistan troop levels. That cap has been 8,400.

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11 a.m.

Sen. John McCain is criticizing Pentagon leaders for not finding a new way ahead for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. He is telling Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that unless the Pentagon sends Congress a strategy soon, the department will “get a strategy from us.”

Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that he will provide details on a new strategy for the war in mid-July. But he said he recognizes the urgency of the matter and that McCain’s criticism is fair.

Mattis said the U.S. is not winning the war there and that the military is taking steps to make certain America doesn’t pay a price for the delay in the new plan. He did not say what those steps are.

The Taliban has been making gains in Afghanistan.

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4:30 a.m.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis blamed the inability of Congress to deliver an annual defense budget for what he called a shockingly poor state of combat readiness as the United States faces fierce rivals, including an “urgent and dangerous threat” from North Korea.

Testifying Monday before the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis took aim at lawmakers for repeatedly approving short-term spending measures that provide too little money and lack the authority the services need to prepare their troops. He also faulted Capitol Hill for not repealing a law that limits defense spending even though there is broad support for doing away with the measure.

Mattis said: “Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership.”

He called Pyongyang’s push for nuclear weapons “a clear and present danger.”

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