President Donald Trump may have angered his supporters and surprised the world with his missile attack on Syria last week, but that doesn't mean he won't shock us even further by how far he is willing to go with a country with which he once insisted he would never militarily engage.
National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster is pushing for President Trump to significantly increase the number of ground troops in Syria, according to a report by Bloomberg. The current draft of a war plan would only maintain a modest level of American ground troops in Syria, which McMaster — as a veteran of the successful surge led by General David Petraeus during the second Iraq War — believes will increase America's chances of achieving a permanent victory in the country. Many military brass believe that Obama's withdrawal of American troops in 2011 was responsible for the subsequent deterioration in that country, Bloomberg noted, as well as the rise of ISIS.
Many of McMaster's critics accuse him of wanting to send tens of thousands of new troops into Syria and start a second Iraq War, including White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Other opposition comes from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, and General Joseph Votel from U.S. Central Command, all of whom oppose increasing the number of conventional forces in Syria for various reasons. As a result of the ongoing debate, the draft war plan for defeating ISIS has now been sent to the policy coordinating committee, an interagency group hosted at the State Department.
There are also critics in the Pentagon who attack McMaster's plan because they would prefer to use special operations forces to train and support local forces, primarily Syrian Kurdish militias, to win the ground war while America restricts its activities to airstrikes and the aforementioned special operations forces. They would also support loosening the restrictions on rules of engagement for the special operations forces and increase the use of close air support in operations held in the ISIS capital city of Raqqa. McMaster has reservations about this proposal because it could anger Arabs in the region as well as undermine the support of Turkey, whose president has a poor relationship with the Kurdish community.