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Trump at Pentagon, Looking for New Strategy Options to Counter IS

By Carla Babb January 27, 2017

President Donald Trump arrived at the Pentagon Friday, where talks with top military leaders were likely to include asking for options on how to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in ways that were previously considered "off the table" during the previous administration, defense officials told VOA.

In turn, top defense officials will be looking for clear priorities to direct the counter-IS fight.

For example, one defense official told VOA Friday the Obama administration had made dual priorities of keeping ally Turkey satisfied and defeating IS.

"When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority," the official told VOA. "Just tell us what is THE priority."

One counter-IS option that could be drafted for Trump is arming or otherwise enhancing the capabilities of a Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPG.

American support for the group is a sensitive proposal because NATO-ally Turkey considers the group a terrorist organization. However, Kurdish forces makes up the bulk of the force to retake Raqqa and have proven very effective against IS in Syria's north and east.

Other options to enhance the counter-IS fight could include providing U.S. Apache helicopter support in the battle for Raqqa or sending more U.S. troops to the region.

The military is likely to ask Trump for broader authorities to give commanders room to maneuver in the fight. A defense official said this change could allow delegation at a lower level in order to "alleviate the micro-approving that's been going on" and provide "speed and agility to tailor solutions to battlefield problems."

When pressed by VOA, the official said an example of "micro-approving" was when the military was authorized to have a forward mobility number of exactly 203 troops in Syria last year.

"Every single person had to be approved," the official said.

If the new administration makes authorizations more flexible for the commanders, "that would be a different equation for a warfighter, and probably easier," he added.

General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the counter-IS operation in Iraq and Syria, is not attending Friday's meeting. His absence supports officials' expectations that this meeting will be more of a request for strategic options that can be presented at a later date.

Trump's visit to the Pentagon will also include a ceremonial swearing-in for Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who told reporters Thursday he prefers to go by "Jim."

Speaking to reporters earlier Friday, Trump said that while he disagrees with the Mattis' thoughts on enhanced interrogation of American enemies, the defense secretary's opinion would "override" his own.

"He's an expert. He's highly respected," Trump said, "and so I'm going to rely on him."

Mattis has stated publicly that he does not believe in the use of torture, an interrogation method that Trump said he feels "does work."

A major focus of the Trump's meeting with Mattis and top military officers is to discuss the end strength and equipment needed to improve combat readiness.

The Pentagon announced Friday that Mattis has directed separate reviews of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the program on the president's new aircraft.

"This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary's recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said.

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