As 30-day deadline to Pentagon for ISIS plan nears, Trump to weigh options

by WorldTribune Staff, February 24, 2017

The Pentagon will present to President Donald Trump a “full range of options” to fight Islamic State (ISIS) that could include U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.

“I’m in the business of providing the president with options,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Feb. 23.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks at the Pentagon on Feb. 22. /James K. McCann/U.S. Army

Related: U.S. ground troops in Syria called one option Pentagon is weighing, February 16, 2017

Following through on a campaign promise, Trump on Jan. 28 ordered a 30-day review of the U.S. strategy on ISIS. Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis is expected to present the president with the plan next week, according to the Pentagon.

“We’ve been given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well,” Dunford said. “So we’re going to go to him with a full range of options from which he can choose.”

The Trump administration reportedly scrapped a detailed plan left by former President Barack Obama’s administration that outlined a strategy to train Kurdish forces, provide them with new equipment, and help them retake Raqqa, instead telling the Pentagon to come up with new options, according to a Feb. 23 report by McClatchy’s D.C. Bureau.

In his first week in office, Trump said he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for people displaced by the violence in order to stem the flow of refugees from the country, a move that would require boots on the ground.

There are currently around 500 U.S. Special Operations forces in Syria, in what Dunford called “about as complex an environment as you can be,” working with Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces to close in on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. Dunford on Feb. 23 repeatedly declined to rule out committing U.S. ground troops to battle ISIS in Syria.

The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, said on Feb. 22 that he was “concerned about maintaining momentum” in efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria, and that it could be a possibility to “take on a larger burden ourselves.”

Dunford said the recommendations also will include ways to battle transnational terrorist groups beyond just Syria and Iraq, especially given the flow of foreign fighters into the region, the McClatchy report said.

Those options would also target Al Qaida, he said.

To defeat ISIS, the U.S. and its allies must “cut the connective tissue between regional groups that now form a trans-regional threat … and then working in combination with local and coalition forces to drive the threat down to the level where local law enforcement can deal with that threat,” Dunford said.