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U.S. to deploying up to 1,000 ‘reserve’ troops for IS fight.


U.S. President
Donald Trump’s administration is weighing a deployment of up to 1,000
American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force in the fight
against Islamic State as U.S.-backed fighters accelerate the offensive
in Syria and Iraq, U.S. officials told Reuters.
Proponents
of the option, which has not been previously reported, said it would
provide U.S. commanders on the ground greater flexibility to quickly
respond to unforeseen opportunities and challenges on the battlefield.

It
would also represent a step away from standard practices under
President Barack Obama’s administration by leaving the ultimate decision
on whether to deploy some of those Kuwait-based reserve forces in Syria
or Iraq to local commanders.

“This is about providing options,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The officials said the deployment would differ from the existing U.S. troop presence in Kuwait.

It
was unclear whether the proposal had the support of U.S. Defense
Secretary Jim Mattis, who could opt to use other tools to give
commanders more agility.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis declined to comment on options being weighed by the Trump administration.

Obama’s
administration was often accused of micromanaging even the smallest
tactical details about the fight against Islamic State, weighing in on
the use of helicopters or movement of small numbers of U.S. forces.

It
also set limits on U.S. deployments that would be adjusted
incrementally, a strategy meant to avoid mission creep by the military
and prevent military moves that might seem good on the battlefield but
which could have inadvertent diplomatic or political consequences. Such
limits are now under scrutiny.

The
decision on whether to create a more rapidly deployable Kuwait-based
force is part of the ongoing review of the United States’ strategy to
defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where around 6,000 U.S. troops
are deployed, largely in advisory roles, the officials said.
Trump has made defeating Islamic State one of the key goals of his presidency.

U.S.
officials have acknowledged the review may lead to an increase in
American troops in Syria, where U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces are
isolating the city of Raqqa – Islamic State’s de facto capital – ahead
of an assault.

But
they have so far played down expectations of a major escalation or
dramatic shift in a strategy that has focused on training and advising
local ground forces, pointing to successes so far in Syria and the
steady advance of Iraqi forces in the campaign to retake the city of
Mosul.

RAQQA BATTLE LOOMS

Trump’s push against
Islamic State in Syria could soon present him with an unenviable
decision on whether to risk alienating NATO ally Turkey by relying on
the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which, in addition to
Arabs, includes Kurdish YPG fighters.

Ankara
views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant
group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984
and is considered a terrorist group by both the United States and the
European Union.

A senior Turkish official said on
Tuesday that the United States had decided to go with the YPG, instead
of agreeing to Ankara’s call for it to instead back Syrian rebels that
Turkey has trained and led against Islamic State for the past year.

The
comments came on the same day that the top U.S. military officer,
Marine General Joseph Dunford, met his Turkish counterpart in the
southern Turkish province of Antalya.
A
U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dunford
did not inform his Turkish counterpart of any decision about the Raqqa
offensive, in remarks that appeared at odds with the Turkish account.

In
a sign of advancing U.S. preparations for Raqqa, an American official
said on Wednesday that a small group of Marines have entered Syria.

The
Washington Post said the Marines were from an amphibious task force and
were establishing an artillery outpost to support the Raqqa offensive.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said he could not comment on future or ongoing U.S. deployments.

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