The US is considering sending 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait as a contingency force in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Reuters reported Wednesday.
According to the report, advocates of the plan say that it will grant US military commanders in the region the ability to respond swiftly to changes on the ground as groups backed by the US continue their advance on IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
“This is about providing options,” an unnamed US official told Reuters.
It is not known if US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who in his final role in the military as head of US Central Command was in charge of US forces in the Middle East, is in favor of the plan or is considering alternative options to grant commanders on the ground greater flexibility.
US officials who spoke with Reuters said the proposal is part of the review ordered by US President Donald Trump of the US military’s plans to defeat IS, which could include sending more ground troops to battle the terror group in Iraq and Syria.
In line with this strategy, a couple hundred Marines were deployed into Syria with heavy artillery guns, a senior US official said Wednesday, as part of the ongoing preparations to oust the IS from its self-declared capital of Raqqa.
The Marines moving into Syria are pre-positioning howitzers to be ready to assist local Syrian forces, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the deployment publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The latest troop movements come on the heels of the recent temporary deployment of some dozens of Army soldiers to the outskirts of Manbij, Syria, in what the Pentagon called a “reassure and deter” mission. Flying American flags and moving in large, heavily armored vehicles, the troops were there to keep a lid on tensions in the area, the Pentagon said.
Although the deployment of Marines to Syria is temporary, it is likely an early indication that the White House is leaning toward giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the IS fight. Military commanders frustrated by what they considered micromanagement under the previous administration have argued for greater freedom to make daily decisions on how best to fight the enemy.
Under the existing limits put in place by the Obama administration, the military can have up to 503 US troops in Syria. But temporary personnel do not count against the cap. The movement of the Marines to Syria was first reported by The Washington Post.
The moves to pre-position US troops closer to the fight, so they can be tapped as needed, are the kinds of decisions that military commanders say they need to be able to make more quickly, without going to the White House every time for approval.