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Mattis to brief White House on plan to defeat Islamic State

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2017

WASINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was set to brief top national security officials at the White House on Monday afternoon on a Pentagon-led plan to “rapidly defeat” the Islamic State group, a Defense Department spokesman said.

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon submitted the plan, a classified preliminary strategy to destroy the terrorist group through military and political actions, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. Mattis will present it – a written document with accompanying graphics – at a meeting of National Security Council principals.

But the initial plan will not result in immediate adjustments to the ongoing fights against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Davis said.

“I would really emphasize that this is the broad framework of a plan,” he said.

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 a global plan,” Davis said. “It is not just military. It is not just Iraq [and] Syria.”

Various federal institutions including the CIA, the State Department and the Treasury Department provided input, submitting proposals aimed at countering the Islamic State group’s use of Internet propaganda and eliminating its financial infrastructure.

Davis declined to provide specific details contained in the report, including what military measures could be needed to speed progress against the terrorist group, saying the Pentagon did “not want to telegraph our actions in advance to the enemy.”

Other officials have said once the report is finalized – Davis declined to provide a time for that – it could call for an increase in the U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria or other measures, such as expanding the use of American attack helicopters or providing more arms to local forces in Syria.

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. Those troops work largely with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are conducting operations to isolate Islamic State militants in the city of Raqqa, the terrorist group’s capital in Syria.

Davis said decisions on increasing forces have not been made and they would require presidential approval.

“There are a number of details that will need to be filled in as this plan moves forward,” he said. “ … We’re going to continue to have a dialogue going forward with our chain of command and continue developing this plan.”

The plan will not call for a large-scale influx of American ground troops, according to a defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the report.

Mattis has said the policy employed by President Barack Obama’s administration of fighting the group primarily through supporting local fighters is sound but it needed to be accelerated “as rapidly as possible.”

“I would just tell you that by, with and through our allies is the way this coalition is going against [the Islamic State group],” Mattis said last week in Baghdad. “We’re going to continue to go after them until we destroy them and any kind of belief in the inevitability of their message.”

In a Jan. 28 memorandum, President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon 30 days to draft the strategy to boost its more than two-year-old campaign against the Islamic State group and “delegitimize” its radical ideology. It was not clear Monday whether Trump would attend Mattis’ briefing of the National Security Council. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis
MONICA A. KING/U.S. ARMY

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