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Counting Boots on the Ground
Pentagon Given Authority to Raise Troop Limits in Iraq and Syria

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.

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  • Unelected Leader

    Yeah. Politicians so often get a big head, and when they dabble in military affairs it’s often the wrong thing to do. Not unique to American presidents either. Saddam Hussein couldn’t help but intervene during the Iran-Iraq war and he made much more of a mess of things than they would’ve otherwise been.

  • FriendlyGoat

    There is nothing wrong with this as long as USA citizens are not treated as undeserving of knowing the continuous details on what THEIR military is doing. The armed forces of the USA are not the property of the president, not “my military”. If/when walls of secrecy go up, there is an immediate problem.

    • Jim__L

      If / when walls of secrecy go down, we get things like 9/11. Absolute openness is absolute stupidity, and helps no one but the sort of enemies who really do want to slaughter as many of us as they can.

      That’s why inculcating some form of values — and I don’t mean humoring the delusional via political correctness — is necessary to keep the military in line. We’ve been doing it right for most of the last 250 years, although I’m worried what can be done with the sort of careerists who have prospered in the last 8 years. A thorough housecleaning is probably in order.

  • D4x

    Is anyone discussing how/if Rules of Engagement have/have not changed? Micro-managing air strikes by JAG lawyers, in joint command centers, was a real constraint during O44’s tenure, until Dec, 2016. Civilian casualties can be a bigger controversy than deploying more ground troops, or maybe that is only if Israel is dropping the bombs…

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