Trump's Plan To Defeat ISIS Looks To Be Out Of The Bag, And It's Ambitious

Paul R. Huard

To use an old-fashioned American expression, the cat is out of the bag when it comes to the Trump administration’s plan to defeat Daesh.

In a Saturday Washington Post article headlined “Pentagon plan to seize Raqqa calls for significant increase in U.S. participation,” reporters Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly describe what they called “the military’s favored option among several variations currently under White House review.”

If the Washington Post story is correct, it outlines an ambitious Pentagon plan that would markedly increase the number of U.S. special forces in Syria, add a significant number of conventional ground forces to the mix, include American air cover and artillery support in the offensive, and supply arms to the Syrian Kurd YPG as well as anti-Daesh Arab fighters in the coalition.

What’s more, it would remove the Obama-era cap on the number of U.S. forces that can operate in-theater. Apparently, the idea is the U.S. forces will not directly participate in the fighting – but they will be much closer to the front lines and U.S. commanders in the field will have far more authority to make battlefield decisions than before.

The report did not include numbers or dates – but that’s no surprise. Even when speaking anonymously, the Pentagon officials who were the sources for the story would not want to provide operational details useful to Daesh. (They read the Washington Post, too.)

Although many of the plan’s details are still closely held for security reasons, it’s a reasonable guess that the sources were willing to talk because they received at least the tacit blessing of the Trump administration. Even though he once loved leaks, President Trump made it clear he is on a rampage against the unauthorized release of government information.

It’s obvious the Washington Post reporters had been working on the story for some time, so the Pentagon officials’ decision to speak anonymously probably was not an effort to distract attention from President Trump’s latest Twitter bombshell claiming he was the subject of wiretaps while president-elect.

One probable reason the Post was able to get the story is the administration might want to gauge both Congressional and public response to the plan, which if implemented would be the largest U.S. combat operations in the Middle East in years.

It could also be a not-so-subtle hint to the Daesh holdouts in Raqqa who are watching U.S. soldiers assist the Peshmerga and Iraqi Army fighters taking back Mosul. If Daesh thinks its situation in Mosul is desperate with the U.S. simply “lending a hand,” what will it be like in Raqqa when 50,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters are supported by the considerable might of a substantial U.S. military force?

However, one thing is for certain: The decision to arm the YPG completely ignores demands from Turkey that Syrian Kurds receive no military aid as well as be banned from the upcoming offensive against Raqqa.

Ankara has long considered the YPG part of a terrorist movement linked with the ambitions of separatist Kurds.

Not so the United States – at least according to a very recent statement by Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

“Of those YPG fighters, I mean, I’ve talked to their leaders, and we’ve watched them operate,” Townsend said during a March 1 media briefing from Baghdad.  “And they continually reassure us that they have no desire to attack Turkey, that they’re not a threat to Turkey.  In fact, they desire to have a good working relationship with Turkey and I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to or supported any attacks on Turkey from northern Syria over the last two years.”

“I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to or supported any attacks on Turkey from northern Syria over the last two years”: That is perhaps the most definitive statement about U.S. perceptions of the YPG’s intentions toward Turkey made during the entire history of the operation.

It is also a sharp rebuke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had just declared Turkish forces would participate in the planned offensive against Raqqa but that any involvement by the YPG was completely unacceptable.

However, Ankara reportedly will receive a concession. YPG forces will participate in the fight to take Raqqa, but only Arab forces will be allowed to enter the city.

Whether the plan survives the heat of battle remains to be seen. Furthermore, there are still plenty of things that could prevent the U.S. from increasing its military presence in Syria.

So far, there has been no real conflict between the U.S. and Russian forces in their areas of operation. All it would take is an accident – either U.S. or Russian forces downing the other’s aircraft or bombing the other’s troops – to spark a potential catastrophe.

Turkish and Kurdish forces could clash with one another, essentially starting a new war.

But there is good news. Coalition forces are racking up victories against Daesh in Syria; the battle for Mosul is successful albeit at a huge humanitarian cost; and the YPG with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces are closing in on the jihadists’ capital Raqqa.

The addition of more U.S. soldiers and assets in Syria could spell the beginning of the end of Daesh – with its beheadings, the destruction of ancient cultural sites, ethnic cleansing, and numerous war crimes – and its reign of terror in the Middle East.