US President Donald Trump has empowered Pentagon to reset Iraq, Syria troop numbers thereby handing over decision making on the battlefield in the two regions to the military.
The power will ensure that the military will now be able to reset a confusing system of troop limits in the two regions that many believed enabled the White House to not only micro-manage battlefield decisions but also obscure the real number of U.S. forces.
While Pentagon acknowledged that they have been given the power to reset the troop limits, they haven’t taken any decision yet. The military is still sticking to the original strategy of empowering the local forces to fight and fend off Islamic State – a tactic that has averted the need for a major U.S. ground force.
The Obama administration introduced the Force Management Level system in Iraq and Syria 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.
Proponents within the U.S. military of changing the system also argue that bringing that decision-making authority to the Pentagon from the White House will allow more flexibility in responding to unforeseen developments on the battlefield.
Replacing the force management level system with something more transparent could be a tricky task, not least because of political sensitivities about U.S. forces in Iraq.
Influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr already has called on Iraq’s government to order the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces after the battle to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State is complete.
The Iraqi and U.S. governments, however, have signaled the need for a continued U.S. military presence. How large that would be has yet to be determined.
Too much information about the comings and goings of U.S. troops, particularly if announced in advance, could give information to enemy, experts say.