The Pentagon on Wednesday confirmed that the Trump administration has granted authority to Secretary of Defense Mattis and the military to set troop limits in Iraq and Syria. Reuters:
The Force Management Level system was introduced in Iraq and Syria during Barack Obama’s administration as a way to exert control over the military. Obama periodically raised FML limits to allow more troops in Iraq and Syria as the campaign against Islamic State advanced.
But the numbers did not reflect the extent of the U.S. commitment on the ground since commanders found often less-than-ideal ways to work around the limits – sometimes bringing in forces temporarily or hiring more contractors.
The force management levels, which are officially at 5,262 in Iraq and 503 in Syria, are believed to be more than a couple of thousands troops shy of the actual number of U.S. forces in both countries.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Trump delegated authority to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to determine force management levels for Iraq and Syria going forward.
While the Pentagon has denied that the move will lead to an immediate increase in force limits, there’s some reason to suspect increased deployments to Iraq, and especially to Syria, could be in the offing in the coming months. Several key Trump aides are known to support troop increases in the fight against ISIS, and those troops may be especially useful in taking ISIS’ capital Raqqa, given the competing interests of Turkey and the Kurds, who are otherwise the most plausible ground forces for the operation.
But perhaps more importantly, the decision is another example of what is now becoming a pattern. On a growing range of issues, President Trump is making clear that he meant what he said after dropping the “Mother of all Bombs” in Afghanistan: “What I do is I authorize my military… we have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.”
When it comes to delegating the authority to drop MOABs in remote regions of Afghanistan, for CIA drone strikes, or additional air strikes in Somalia, the stakes for the Trump Administration have been pretty low. But as the concerns over the death of a Navy SEAL in Yemen demonstrated in February, deploying ground troops, and the inevitable attendant casualties, represent a different category altogether. We’ll see if Trump’s generals up the ante in the first place—and then watch how the President deals with any political fallout.