Policy

ISIS Strategy Gets an Update

National security officials outline Trump administration changes

Defense Secretary James Mattis and other officials outlined new tactics in the fight against ISIS. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senior national security officials Friday outlined what they claim is a new approach to addressing the Islamic State, the same day President Donald Trump left for an extended overseas trip with the first leg of the journey touching down in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Trump has authorized a change in tactics in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The tactical shift moves to a campaign aimed at surrounding and then seizing ISIS’ urban strongholds in order to prevent the escape of fighters.

Brett McGurk, special envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, said coalition partners are carrying out a “whole of government,” “anaconda-like approach” to suffocate the Islamic State, depriving it of the territory, finances, and ability to import new fighters that it needs to survive.

McGurk, who was first appointed to his position by President Barack Obama in 2015, also said the United States is engaged in a “stabilization” process in Iraq, not to be confused with “nation-building” and reconstruction efforts undertaken by the administration of George W. Bush. Stabilization initiatives are short-term, citizen-identified projects aimed at quickly returning displaced Iraqis to their homes and communities, McGurk, who worked on Iraq affairs for both Obama and Bush, said.

Meanwhile, in his turn at the podium, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said the decision by the Obama administration to delay a plan to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters in order to allow the Trump administration to make the final decision did not lead to a delay in plans to assault ISIS’ capital of Raqqa.

Mattis suggested earlier estimates that coalition forces, including Kurdish fighters, would be ready to attack Raqqa in February were overly optimistic. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is under investigation for working as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey, reportedly told Obama officials to delay the decision.

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