WASHINGTON — A Pentagon-led review of strategy to defeat the Islamic State group will present President Donald Trump with options not just to speed up action against IS but also to counter al-Qaida and other extremist groups beyond Iraq and Syria, the nation’s top military officer said Thursday.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the intention is to craft a plan that addresses the threat of violent extremist in the broadest sense. He said this includes the problem of militants being exported from dozens of countries to unstable places like Iraq and Syria. He said there are 45,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria alone.
Trump on Jan. 28 ordered a 30-day review of strategy and a “preliminary draft” of a plan to defeat the Islamic State.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to deliver the plan to the White House next week. It’s not clear how quickly Trump expects to act on it; his new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, just started work this week.
While Dunford declined to offer details of any options under consideration, he stressed that the plan is being built with input across the government, to include the departments of State and Treasury as well as the intelligence agencies.
“This is a political-military plan,” he said. “It is not a military plan.”
In his Jan. 28 order, Trump said he wanted a comprehensive strategy to defeat IS and to “isolate and delegitimize” it through diplomacy, information operations and cyber strategies. The Islamic State rose to prominence in Syria and took over large parts of Iraq in 2014 but has since spread to Libya, Afghanistan and beyond. Over the past year, the group has lost territory in both Syria and Iraq, including much of its former northern Iraq stronghold of Mosul.
“We will go to him (Trump) with a full range of options from which he can choose,” Dunford said. He said the proposed plan will attempt to balance the need for quick action against IS with the desire to preserve long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East.
“What we don’t want to do is bring him options that solve one problem only to create a second problem.”
Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, in charge of U.S. military operations in the greater Middle East, has said more American troops may be needed to speed up the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The U.S. currently has about 500 special operations troops in Syria helping to organize, advise and assist local forces.