Dunford: Study Will Provide ‘Full Range of Options’ to Battle ‘Trans-Regional Threats’
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The on-going study of ways to accelerate the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization is a “whole of government” effort that seeks to give President Donald J. Trump political and economic options, in addition to military actions, to provide enduring effects, the nation’s top military officer said Feb. 23.
Addressing a Brookings Institution audience, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said the 30-day review Trump ordered was intended to provide “a full range of options” to deal with the “trans-regional threat” posed by ISIS and the other violent extremist groups plaguing the Middle East and Africa.
Dunford would not discuss what those options might be or say whether the plan would propose any increase in U.S. forces supporting the local security forces fighting the extremists in Iraq and Syria. Those are decisions the president must make, he said.
“This plan is a political-military plan. It is not a military plan. So far, in development of the plan we’ve been completely engaged at every stage with the State Department,” Treasury and the intelligence community, he said.
“All of us who have been part of the process over the last 15 years realize that anything we do on the ground has to be in the context of the political objectives or it’s not going to be successful,” he said. “This is really about providing options to the president. That means the entire team.”
Dunford, who had commanded the coalition fight in Iraq, said “when you look at the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s not about Syria and Iraq, it’s about trans-regional threats,” that include ISIS, al-Qaida “and other groups that present a trans-regional threat. So when we go to the president with options, it will be about the trans-regional threat.”
What makes it trans-regional, Dunford said, was the flow of foreign fighters and resources into the two nations and “the narrative” of the extremist ideology.
“Our plan to be successful has to, No. 1, cut the connective tissue between the forces that make it a trans-regional threat. Then, working in combination with local forces, to drive the threat down to a level where the local security forces can deal with that threat,” he said. “Our first priority is to protect the homeland and the American people from that threat. But that’s not inconsistent with trying to help our allies and partners to do the same.”
Dunford also would not speculate on whether the Pentagon would be proposing any overall force increase to deal with the wide range of global commitments the military is facing, saying that Defense Secretary James Mattis must first develop a new national security strategy.
“Only then can we talk about force sizing,” he said.
The chairman noted that there is a current strategy against which they decide the force size. But, he added, the service chiefs “have made it clear, the force is not adequate to meet that strategy.”
Dunford also was asked about China’s protest that the carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson, which has been operating in the South China Sea, does not respect its sovereignty.
“We do respect the sovereignty in the region. But we also respect access to the global commons,” he said, noting his earlier statement about the U.S. insistence on its right to freedom of navigation in international waters.
“The presence of that aircraft carrier is designed to do what I spoke about earlier, to exercise our right to operate, to sail, to fly wherever international law allows. We demonstrate that routinely to support the sanctity of that agreement,” Dunford said.