By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for a military plan to defeat Islamic State is likely to see the Pentagon revisiting options for a more aggressive use of firepower and American troops.
But U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, doubt the country’s military will advocate fundamentally changing a key strategy refined during the Obama administration: relying on local forces to do most of the fighting, and dying, in Syria and Iraq.
“I think it’s going to be very successful. That’s big stuff,” said Trump as he signed an executive order on Saturday requesting the Pentagon, joint chiefs of staff and other agencies to submit a preliminary plan in 30 days for defeating Islamic State, fulfilling one of his campaign trail pledges.
The order calls for the combined experts to recommend any changes needed to U.S. rules of engagement or other policy restrictions, to identify new coalition partners and to suggest mechanisms for choking off Islamic State funding sources. It also demands a detailed strategy for funding the plan.
Trump made defeating Islamic State – which has claimed responsibility for several attacks on American soil and is frustrating U.S. military operations across the Middle East – one of the key themes in his campaign. But he avoided talking about specifics of any plan to combat the radical group.
Any shifts by the U.S. military would have broad repercussions for U.S. relationships across the Middle East, which were strained by former President Barack Obama’s effort throughout his administration to limit U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s Defence Secretary James Mattis has advocated a more forceful approach against Islamic State, but how he will pursue that remains unclear.
U.S. military officials have long acknowledged the United States could more quickly defeat Islamic State by using its own forces, instead of local fighters, on the battlefield.
But victory, many U.S. military officials have argued, would come at the expense of more U.S. lives lost and ultimately do little to create a lasting solution to conflicts fuelled by bitter ethnic, religious and political divides in nations with fierce anti-American sentiment.