Secretary of Defense James Mattis made an unannounced visit to the Pentagon’s Middle East policy office last week to probe the knowledge of his staff, The New York Times reports.
Mattis is pushing an education drive, and he wants Pentagon specialists to read more about the countries they are responsible for developing U.S. policy in. He wants his specialists to become intimately familiar with the countries beyond issues solely related to bilateral U.S. relations.
The newest defense secretary has long been a proponent of reading, once writing a famous letter on the subject in 2004. “By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men,” he wrote to a colleague at the time.
President Donald Trump ordered a review of U.S. anti-ISIS strategy, which may be one of the reasons Mattis quizzed Pentagon staff. The options will likely range from loosening rules of engagement, a potential increase in the number of U.S. special operators in Syria, and a more comprehensive strategy to combat the ISIS ideology.
“This plan is a political-military plan,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience Friday. “The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed.” He added that the plan will be to coordinate with several other U.S. government agencies.
Mattis and the Trump administration have already loosened U.S. rules of engagement in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. U.S. commanders no longer have to relay fire requests to joint command centers, and instead have more battlefield authority. U.S. troops have also been deployed into the Mosul city limits providing support for the Iraqi Security Forces’ continued push into the city.
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