Kush­ner joins Dun­ford in Iraq for talks with mil­i­tary lead­ers.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Step­ping up the drive to clear out Is­lamic State’s last strongholds in Syria and Iraq, Jared Kush­ner, Pres­i­dent Trump’s son-in-law and in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial ad­viser, ar­rived Mon­day with Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Joseph Dun­ford for talks in Baghdad with top Iraqi mil­i­tary lead­ers.

Mr. Kush­ner’s pres­ence dur­ing this week’s trip, a rar­ity for se­nior White House of­fi­cials out­side na­tional se­cu­rity cir­cles, could in­di­cate that Mr. Trump is mov­ing closer to his goal of re­fo­cus­ing the U.S. war strat­egy against the ter­ror group.

Mr. Trump has al­ready del­e­gated sig­nif­i­cant au­ton­omy to Pen­tagon of­fi­cials to run the war against Is­lamic State as they deem fit, af­ter hav­ing crit­i­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for putting too many re­stric­tions on U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties in the fight.

A mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­ner cir­cle, Mr. Kush­ner has been named the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s point man on the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict. Gen. Dun­ford per­son­ally in­vited Mr. Kush­ner, as well as White House home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser Tom Bossert, to ac­com­pany him to Iraq. The trip has raised some eye­brows be­cause Mr. Kush­ner, who met with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi two weeks ago on his trip to Washington, is trav­el­ing to Baghdad be­fore Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son makes the same trip.

Mr. Kush­ner was “trav­el­ing on be­half of the pres­i­dent to ex­press the pres­i­dent’s sup­port and com­mit­ment” to U.S. and Iraqi forces bat­tling Is­lamic State, said Joint Chiefs spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks.

Mr. Kush­ner, who is mar­ried to Mr. Trump’s daugh­ter, Ivanka, is ex­pected to take a ma­jor part in meet­ings later this week be­tween Mr. Trump and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Florida.

Gen. Dun­ford told re­porters en route to Iraq the in­vi­ta­tion ex­tended to the White House of­fi­cials, which was only re­vealed Sun­day, was to pro­vide the White House “first-hand and un­fil­tered” as­sess­ment of the U.S.-led cam­paign against Is­lamic State.

In­creas­ing the fe­roc­ity of the Amer­i­can-backed Iraqi cam­paign against Is­lamic State was one of Pres­i­dent Trump’s key cam­paign prom­ises. Shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary, the com­man­der in chief ini­ti­ated a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the Obama-era war plan, which can­di­date Trump lam­basted as a piece­meal ap­proach that was mov­ing too slowly against Is­lamic State strongholds such as Mo­sul in Iraq and the Syr­ian city of Raqqa.

While the new strat­egy re­mains un­der White House re­view, U.S. and coali­tion com­man­ders on the ground are al­ready look­ing past the loom­ing endgame in Mo­sul and Raqqa.

Iraqi forces and Kur­dish mili­tias con­tinue to press deeper into western Mo­sul, en­gag­ing, dur­ing the six-month cam­paign, in some of the most bru­tal ur­ban war­fare since World War II, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told re­porters last week.

In Syria, U.S.-backed paramil­i­taries un­der the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces ban­ner took Tabqa Dam, a key re­doubt for the Is­lamic State. The dam com­plex and its ad­ja­cent air­field could be a key stag­ing area for the up­com­ing Raqqa as­sault.

But as Is­lamic State pre­pares to make its fi­nal stand amid in­ten­si­fied fight­ing, pre­vent­ing col­lat­eral dam­age while pre­par­ing for life in the city af­ter Is­lamic State has set up its own se­ries of chal­lenges.

At the on­set of the Mo­sul cam­paign, coali­tion of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that a 35,000-to40,000-man lo­cal force would be needed to hold Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city once Is­lamic State was driven out. Coali­tion of­fi­cials did not pro­vide es­ti­mates for the po­ten­tial se­cu­rity force needed for Syria at the time.

The more press­ing is­sue is en­sur­ing the tens of thou­sands of Mo­sul’s 2.5 mil­lion cit­i­zens caught in the cross­fire sur­vive long enough to see Is­lamic State driven from their city. U.S. com­man­ders are al­ready fac­ing sharp ques­tion­ing about the num­ber of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties that have oc­curred in the Iraqi and Syr­ian cam­paigns.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand has opened two of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions into mass civil­ian ca­su­al­ties tied to U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jared Kush­ner (third from left), Pres­i­dent Trump’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser, ac­com­pa­nied Chair­man of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dun­ford (sec­ond from left) to dis­cuss Iraq’s se­cu­rity in the face of threats from the Is­lamic State.

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