(Reuters) BEIRUT, LEBANON (04:11 P.M.) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is weighing a deployment of up to 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force in the fight against Islamic State as U.S.-backed fighters accelerate the offensive in Syria and Iraq, U.S. officials told Reuters.
Proponents of the option, which has not been previously reported, said it would provide U.S. commanders on the ground greater flexibility to quickly respond to unforeseen opportunities and challenges on the battlefield.
It would also represent a step away from standard practices under President Barack Obama’s administration by leaving the ultimate decision on whether to deploy some of those Kuwait-based reserve forces in Syria or Iraq to local commanders.
“This is about providing options,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The officials said the deployment would differ from the existing U.S. troop presence in Kuwait.
It was unclear whether the proposal had the support of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who could opt to use other tools to give commanders more agility.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis declined to comment on options being weighed by the Trump administration.
Obama’s administration was often accused of micromanaging even the smallest tactical details about the fight against Islamic State, weighing in on the use of helicopters or movement of small numbers of U.S. forces.
It also set limits on U.S. deployments that would be adjusted incrementally, a strategy meant to avoid mission creep by the military and prevent military moves that might seem good on the battlefield but which could have inadvertent diplomatic or political consequences. Such limits are now under scrutiny.
The decision on whether to create a more rapidly deployable Kuwait-based force is part of the ongoing review of the United States’ strategy to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where around 6,000 U.S. troops are deployed, largely in advisory roles, the officials said.
Trump has made defeating Islamic State one of the key goals of his presidency.
U.S. officials have acknowledged the review may lead to an increase in American troops in Syria, where U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces are isolating the city of Raqqa – Islamic State’s de facto capital – ahead of an assault.
But they have so far played down expectations of a major escalation or dramatic shift in a strategy that has focused on training and advising local ground forces, pointing to successes so far in Syria and the steady advance of Iraqi forces in the campaign to retake the city of Mosul.