Pentagon sends Islamic State options to the White House

Cheryl Sanders
March 1, 2017

McMaster had been at the Pentagon last Friday to be briefed on Mattis' proposals which Davis described in general terms as a "broad plan".

Officials familiar with the review told Military Times that the plan will likely lead to decisions that mean more US military involvement in Syria, and possibly more ground troops. "It is global. It is not just military".

The new strategy will focus primarily on boosting the military actions against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but it will also provide plans to target its offshoots in other locations as well as other extremist groups such as al-Qaida. "It is not just Iraq/Syria".

At the Brookings Institute last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that the US was looking to the possibility of a long-term presence of USA troops in Iraq following the ouster of ISIS from its last remaining stronghold in the northwestern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Dunford's comments appeared more tempered than Trump's pronouncements of wiping the extremists out, and the military commander cautioned that Washington must take care to not create new problems in the Middle East in its efforts to neutralize Daesh.

The options presented to Trump will likely include more U.S. troops being sent to the Middle East, and would see the Pentagon taking a more aggressive stance in other key areas. Davis said the report defines what it means to "defeat" the group, which he wouldn't reveal to reporters.

The anti-IS fight is more complex in civil-war-torn Syria, where Russian Federation is conducting its own air campaign to prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. military-led review includes input from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as from the Treasury Department and the U.S. intelligence community. Mattis already has signaled publicly that he sees no value in having US combat forces take over the ground war.

Asked if adding more USA troops or arming the Syrian Kurds was under discussion, Mattis said he will "accommodate any request" from his field commanders.

The commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, recently said he expected to need more American troops on the ground in Syria, where the United States has deployed about 500 special operators to advise and assist U.S. -backed militia forces.

One of the thorniest problems the Trump administration faces concerns Russia's military role in Syria. Although Trump has suggested an interest in working with Russian Federation against IS, the Pentagon has been reluctant to go beyond military-to-military contacts aimed at avoiding accidents in the airspace over Syria.

Senior military leaders, including Mattis, seem more confident in the Iraqi military campaign, lending weight to the idea that the options will put a greater emphasis on Syria.

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