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Report: Mattis considers Afghanistan troop levels while Russia bans U.S. from peace talks

Afghan villagers gathered around several victims' body who were killed during clashes between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Taliban's controlled village, Buz-e Kandahari village in Kunduz province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, Authorities say a joint raid by U.S. and Afghan forces targeting senior Taliban commanders killed two American service members and 26 civilians on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. Afghan officials said they were still investigating the attack and its civilian casualties, some of which may have been caused by the airstrikes. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)

According to reports, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis will decide "soon" on troop levels in Afghanistan even while Russia banned the U.S. from participating in peace talks there last week.

According to the Military Times, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he spoke Sunday with U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, American commander in Afghanistan, who has been requesting troops to provide greater flexibility as the war there moves into its 16th year.

Mattis also told reporters the call with Nicholson and a meeting in Munich Saturday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani were all part of his attempt to apprise himself of the situation in Afghanistan. Mattis was in Munich for a security conference.

"The president has been rightfully reticent on [the issue of Afghanistan] because he's waiting for my assessment and the assessment from the intelligence community," Mattis said during a press conference. "It shouldn't take too long. I've got to integrate a fair number of issues to give a good recommendation for the way ahead."

Nicholson would reportedly like to make troop level assessments based on military need rather than pre-set numbers, and has also alerted the defense secretary that Russian meddling has complicated the separate issue of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Nicholson's appeal to Mattis comes as Russia barred the U.S. from peace talks in Afghanistan on Wednesday to the chagrin of the Afghan government. Russia has supported the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban, who they say counters the more dangerous Islamic State. The U.S. supports the current elected government of Afghanistan, which many believe will be necessarily weakened by a more powerful Taliban.

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