President Donald Trump has delegated authority to decide troop levels in the fight against ISIS to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Mattis will now be allowed to set U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria in accordance with mission needs. Mattis’s new authority also comes after the Pentagon’s late March decision to no longer announce how many troops are headed to the ISIS fight. “It’s about capabilities not numbers,” CENTCOM spokesman Army Col. John Thomas told reporters at the time.
“Restoring FML decisions to the Secretary of Defense enables military commanders to be more agile, adaptive and efficient in supporting our partners, and enables decisions that benefit unit readiness, cohesion and lethality,” Pentagon spokesman Dana White told BuzzFeedNews Wednesday. White also told the Associated Press Mattis has not yet changed the number of troops in the region.
The decision marks a major departure from the Obama administration, which capped troop levels in several U.S. military areas of operations and frequently highlighted troop numbers as part of its drawdown strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of the Obama administration said focus on troop levels arbitrarily constrained commanders trying to achieve larger strategic goals.
The U.S. currently has approximately 5,000 troops in Iraq advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against ISIS. In Syria the U.S. has hundreds of special operators embedded with local forces, along with approximately 400 U.S. Marines supporting the forces with artillery.
The move fits with a broader push by the Trump administration to delegate tactical authorities to the Pentagon while focusing on broader strategic issues. The increasingly lax oversight is already being felt in the ground war against Islamic terrorists. “There is a sense among these commanders that they are able to do a bit more — and so they are,” a senior U.S military official told The Wall Street Journal in mid-April.
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