President Donald Trump will visit the Pentagon Friday to order Secretary of Defense James Mattis to begin a comprehensive review of U.S. anti-ISIS strategy.
Mattis, and his team at the Pentagon, have been anticipating the order and reportedly have several plans in the works to increase the tempo of U.S. operations against ISIS. The options range from sending more U.S. special operators to Syria, directly arming rebel groups fighting ISIS, and using army attack helicopters against the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The directive fits with Trump’s inaugural pledge to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism.”
Each option carries major implications for all parties involved in the Syrian civil war, and the terrorists who use it as safe haven. Sending more U.S. special operators to Syria to engage the enemy drastically increases the odds of casualties, something Trump repeatedly says he wishes to avoid. Turkey, a NATO ally and current occupying country of Syrian territory, regards certain Kurdish militias as an existential threat on the same level of ISIS. The use of Army attack helicopters on Raqqa also risks U.S. casualties.
Any of these military plans will likely have to be coordinated with Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson. Trump indicated he wants to restore relations with Russia, and particularly to cooperate with them inside Syria against ISIS. Russia is currently leading a peace process along with Turkey and Iran. Trump’s plans to defeat ISIS, would almost certainly have to be coordinated with Russia and its allies. These allies include Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
The U.S.-backed Iraqi Security Forces are currently assaulting the ISIS-held city of Mosul, an operation dragging on months longer than expected. The Iraqi government recently announced the eastern half of the city had been retaken after nearly 3 months of continuous combat operations, and thousands of deaths.
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