The Pentagon this week will present the White House with options for accelerating the war against the Islamic State, the first step toward President Trump’s campaign pledge to change the current strategy and crush the global terror group.
Instead of a major overhaul, military leaders will likely recommend adjustments that could expand bombings and quicken the pace of ground operations, several analysts said.
The Pentagon will likely stick with its current policy of backing local forces to lead the fight against the militants in Iraq and Syria. Trump has voiced skepticism about sending conventional American troops to the region.
“That doesn’t change,” said Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
The new proposal will probably amount to a “supersizing” of the Obama administration’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State, said Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
Pentagon officials have declined to discuss details of the plan before it is presented to the White House. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said only that it will include “options” for the president to consider.
Last month, Trump gave the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat the Islamic State. On the campaign trail he repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for its inability to stop the militant group.
The Pentagon might recommend a number of strategy adjustments that would intensify the battle against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. For example, the Pentagon could make the current rules of engagement less restrictive and perhaps find ways to boost support for local ground forces in Iraq and Syria, according to the analysts.
Approval for some airstrikes can take weeks under the current process. And the Obama administration’s rules on limiting civilian casualties went beyond what is required by international law, Cafarella said.
Trump “is not going to worry quite as much as about collateral damage,” Rubin said.
The Pentagon could also recommend placing U.S. advisers closer to combat in Iraq and Syria. Advisers now are ordered to avoid exposing themselves to combat and are generally limited to headquarters away from the fighting.
Former president Barack Obama strictly limited the number of troops deployed to Iraq and Syria and placed much of the authority for military decisions within the White House. Rubin said Trump will likely allow generals greater leeway in running the operations.
The United States might also consider directly supporting Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, Rubin said. The Kurds have been effective fighters against the Islamic State, but the United States has not provided them directly with ammunition and supplies because of Turkish opposition. Turkey’s government fears the Kurds in Syria are linked to groups inside Turkey that have been fighting for independence.
The Pentagon plan was developed in coordination with the Treasury and State departments, plus other agencies. The options will also address the Islamic State’s influence beyond Iraq and Syria and has expanded to North Africa, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The United States has deployed about 500 troops to Syria, advising Arab and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State. In Iraq, about 5,000 U.S. troops advise, train and support Iraqi armed forces.
The Pentagon said its plan to the White House will be a broad, strategic overview and will not include recommendations for troop numbers.
The new Pentagon proposal will be presented to the White House as the current strategy has shown some success in taking back territory held by the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.
Iraq’s U.S.-backed forces are in the final stages of a fight to drive the militants from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraqi forces recently captured the international airport and on Sunday cleared some neighborhoods on the western side of the city. Last month, the city’s east side was declared liberated by Iraq’s government.
Coalition-backed forces in Syria are simultaneously closing in on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
Some analysts want Trump to adapt a broad overhaul of strategy that would address the political conditions in the region that have led to the rise of the Islamic State and the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.
“The question is how to create the political conditions and governing conditions that will keep these (terror) organizations defeated,” Carafella said.
Source: USA Today