PEN­TAGON GETS MORE LEE­WAY

Com­man­ders given lat­i­tude to con­duct bat­tle op­er­a­tions the way they see best

New Straits Times - - World -

THE Pen­tagon un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is en­joy­ing greater free­dom to run its wars the way it wants and not con­stantly seek White House ap­proval on im­por­tant de­ci­sions.

Many in the mil­i­tary ap­pre­ci­ate this in­creased au­ton­omy, but crit­ics charge it is rais­ing civil­ian death rates, putting the lives of US troops at greater risk and lead­ing to a lack of over­sight of Amer­ica’s con­flicts.

Nowhere has the shift been more vis­i­ble than in the fight against the Is­lamic State group in north­ern Syria, where un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama, even mi­nor tweaks to US plans un­der­went ex­haus­tive White House scru­tiny.

Since Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, the Ma­rine Corps has brought an ar­tillery bat­tery into Syria, and the Army has flowed in hun­dreds of Rangers, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of US forces there to al­most 1,000.

Com­man­ders are weigh­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of de­ploy­ing hun­dreds more, and the Pen­tagon this week an­nounced it had pro­vided ar­tillery sup­port and chop­pered lo­cal forces be­hind en­emy lines in a bid to seize a strate­gic dam.

The greater lee­way marks a de­par­ture for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC), which co­or­di­nates for­eign and mil­i­tary pol­icy and im­ple­ments the pres­i­dent’s na­tional se­cu­rity agenda.

Un­der Obama, the NSC over­saw just about ev­ery as­pect of Amer­ica’s wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, with then Pen­tagon chief Ash Carter was kept on a short leash.

Trump, con­versely, has re­peat­edly de­ferred to his de­fence sec­re­tary, Jim Mat­tis, on mil­i­tary moves.

Mat­tis, a re­tired gen­eral, has del­e­gated ex­panded author­i­ties to his bat­tle­field com­man­ders.

“Jim Mat­tis has been given the lat­i­tude to con­duct mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the way he sees best,” Pen­tagon spokesman Chris Sher­wood said.

The United States is fight­ing IS in Iraq and Syria and the Tal­iban in Afghanistan “by, with and through” lo­cal forces backed by US and al­lied air power.

That over­all strat­egy hasn’t changed, but com­man­ders now have greater dis­cre­tion to move troops and equip­ment around.

Troop in­creases were es­pe­cially sen­si­tive for Obama, who cam­paigned on a prom­ise to end Amer­ica’s Mid­dle East wars and not put US boots on the ground.

Sen­a­tor John McCain, who heads the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, was a fre­quent critic of what he calls NSC mi­cro­man­age­ment.

The vet­eran law­maker said he favoured bat­tle­field com­man­ders get­ting greater lat­i­tude.

“We don’t have to ask the 30some­thing-year-olds for per­mis­sion to re­spond to an at­tack in Afghanistan,” he said. AFP

REUTERS PIC

Smoke ris­ing over the city dur­ing clashes be­tween Iraqi forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Mo­sul, Iraq, on Satur­day.

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