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Pentagon: Review of Islamic State strategy could include call for new war authorization

A U.S. soldier assigned to the Army's 310th Engineer Company, 365th Engineer Battalion, assists Iraqi security forces engineers during assault bridging training at Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 21, 2017. U.S. troops trained ISF as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, a joint mission aimed at defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department’s 30-day review of operations against the Islamic State will be delivered to the White House on Monday.

CHRISTOPHER BRECHT/U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s 30-day review of operations against the Islamic State group will be delivered to the White House on Monday, but that does not mean major battlefield changes are imminent, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.

“This is the framework for a broader plan,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon. “This is very broad. This is not just a simple thing that’s going to address … troop levels or new [combat] authorities.”

President Donald Trump on Jan. 28 ordered the Pentagon to initiate a comprehensive review of its strategies to counter the Islamic State group in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria and in other parts of the world where the terrorist organization operates. Top Pentagon officials have worked alongside other federal agencies responsible for national security to construct a “preliminary draft” of potential plans to ramp up the more than 2-year-old campaign against the Islamic State group, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.

But the review focuses on more than just military action against the Islamic State group. Davis said it includes a review of diplomatic, cybersecurity and financial operations concerning the terrorist group. Dunford said it focuses not only on the Islamic State group but also on al-Qaida and other extremist organizations.

“We will go to [Trump] with a full range of options from which he can choose,” the Marine general said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to present the 30-day review to the White House, including newly appointed National Security Advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

McMaster, who remains on active duty, met Friday with Mattis at the Pentagon, Davis said.

The review will be presented as a U.S.-led coalition continues to make progress in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi security forces earlier this week launched its operation to retake the western half of Mosul and have already freed about 100 square miles of land on the outskirts of the city, Davis said.

In Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces continue operations to isolate Raqqa, the terrorist group’s capital, while Syrian groups allied with Turkish military forces have largely pushed the Islamic State group out of another of its strongholds in al-Bab.

Most of the plans identified in the review are unlikely to be made public, Davis said Friday. Neither he nor Dunford on Thursday discussed the details of the plan. Defense officials have said they could include sending more U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria and adding more assets, such as attack helicopters, to the fight.

“Ultimately what we roll out – it’s a plan to attack an enemy. We do not want to telegraph too much of it for reasons that can be understood,” Davis said, as he cautioned specific war plans will not be decided immediately.

The plan “will now be presented to the White House and we will now work to refine it,” he said.

One aspect that the review could include is the Pentagon’s recommendation of a new congressional war powers authorization, specifically targeting the Islamic State group, Davis said.

The Pentagon has long pushed for Congress to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a law granting the president the authority to use military force against a particular enemy.

The military under President Barack Obama and now under Trump has relied on the 2001 authorization by Congress to allow military operations against al-Qaida and its affiliates following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I think the policy here has been – and this is not a political thing or a new thing – an [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] would make a lot of our congressional authorities clearer,” Davis said. “That thinking has not changed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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