Kushner joins Dunford in Iraq for talks with military leaders.
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.
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.