America quietly expanding wars


Washington: Country by country, the Pentagon is quietly seizing more control over warfighting decisions, sending hundreds more troops to war with little public debate.

Late last month, according to reports, nearly 500 troops were deployed to Syria against ISIS. This week it was Somalia, where Donald Trump gave the US military more powers against al-Qaida-linked militants and next week it could be Yemen, where the US wants to help the UAE against Iranian-backed rebels.
Changes during Mr Trump’s first two months in office underscore his willingness to let the Pentagon manage its own day-to-day combat. Under Barack Obama, military leaders chafed about micromanagement that included commanders needing approval for routine tactical decisions. But delegating more combat decisions to lower level officers carries risks and military and civilian casualties may be the biggest.

Deepening involvement in street battles increases chances of US troops dying and such tragedies could raise the ire of the American public. Similarly, allowing low-level commanders to make more timely airstrike decisions in densely-populated areas like the streets of Mosul, Iraq, can result in more civilian deaths.

The US military is already investigating bombings in Mosul in mid-March that witnesses say killed at least 100 people. But top military leaders have been staunchly supported by Mr Trump.

Also, the Defense Department has quietly doubled the number of US forces in Syria. Troop additions are coming incrementally, in the hundreds, not the thousands and the result may be confusing. Mr Trump hasn’t eliminated Obama’s troop number limits. Thus, the caps of 503 for Syria and 5,262 for Iraq are still in effect.

But the US military — with White House approval — is using a loophole to categorise deployments as temporary. For example, several hundred Marines were sent to Syria to help retake ISIS’ self-declared capital of Raqqa. All were deemed temporary so were not counted against the cap.

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