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By Saagar Enjeti
U.S. Central Command will no longer give out the number of troops headed to Iraq or Syria in the fight against the Islamic State, the Pentagon declared Monday.
Washington will instead provide rough unit sizes of troops headed to the region. “It’s about capabilities not numbers,” CENTCOM spokesman Army Col. John Thomas told reporters. Thomas’s statement marks a major departure from the Obama administration’s focus on force management levels as a major element of U.S. policy making.
The Obama administration capped troop levels in several U.S. military areas of operations and frequently highlighted troop numbers as part of its drawdown strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of the Obama administration said focus on troop levels arbitrarily constrained commanders trying to achieve larger strategic goals.
The Trump administration has shucked that policy and announced a slew of troop deployments to the middle east. The piecemeal announcements from the Trump administration of troop deployments include 400 Marines to Syria, 2500 troops to Kuwait, and another 200 troops to Iraq to support operations against the ISIS held city of Mosul.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer emphasized Monday that President Donald Trump “philosophically” wants to give commanders on the ground more flexibility in the ground war against ISIS. Trump has given a wide hand to his ground commanders and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has been given sign off authority on troop deployments.
Trump’s delegation to Mattis on troop authorities fits within broader deference to the U.S. military in counter-terrorism operations. This may even include giving Mattis the authority to launch time sensitive anti-terrorist operations independently, even in places that the U.S. does not have a declared combat mission.