Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s proposed plan to retake the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, calls for a significant increase in the U.S. military presence in Syria.
The proposal would lift the current cap on U.S. special operators embedded with local forces, The Washington Post reports. The proposal would also include the use of U.S. attack helicopters, U.S. artillery, and increased arms sales to U.S.-backed forces.
The main recipient of U.S. aid will likely be the Syrian Democratic Forces, an anti-ISIS force largely composed of Syrian Kurdish fighters. American reliance on Syrian Kurds will likely spark major tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, who regard the Kurdish forces as an existential threat on par with ISIS. The Kurdish forces have proven the only reliable, large-scale U.S.-backed force capable of fighting the terrorist group effectively.
The plan also lifts restrictions on U.S. rules of engagement for special operators, similar to the new guidelines for U.S. forces in Iraq. President Donald Trump and Mattis have allowed U.S. special operators to accompany Iraqi Security Forces in the fight to retake Mosul, and have cleared the way for ground commanders to take action without clearance from above in time-sensitive situations.
New strategic plans for Raqqa are likely just a small facet of a new overall strategy to eradicate ISIS. Trump ordered a 30-day review of U.S. strategy, along with options to increase operations tempo, which the Pentagon delivered to the White House Monday.
“This plan is a political-military plan,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience in late February. “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.”
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