“Added Flexibility”: Corri Zoli Addresses Expanded Military Footprint in Iraq & Syria with Al-Monitor

Pentagon wants to build new US facilities in Iraq, Syria

(Al-Monitor | July 13, 2017) The Donald Trump administration is pushing Congress for the authority to build new “temporary” facilities in Iraq and Syria as part of the US-led campaign against the Islamic State.

“It looks to me like what they’re trying to do is get a little more maneuverability to create some infrastructure for deepening the fight beyond Raqqa and Syria.”

In a policy statement released Tuesday night, the White House argues that US troops are hamstrung by legal restrictions on their ability to expand US military infrastructure “in both Iraq and Syria.” The administration wants lawmakers to extend existing authorities that only cover the “repair and renovation” of facilities to also encompass “temporary intermediate staging facilities, ammunition supply points, and assembly areas that have adequate force protection.”

“These facilities, supply points, and assembly areas will enable the pursuit of [IS] into the Euphrates River Valley and help improve the security of Iraq’s borders,” the statement reads. “Current authorities … severely limit the coalition’s maneuverability and its ability to respond quickly to changing operational conditions.”

Tuesday’s Statement of Administration Policy, which the White House uses to present its views on pending legislation, takes the House Armed Services Committee to task for not including the change in its annual defense authorization bill released last month, although it is not clear if lawmakers had received the request from the Pentagon in time. The Senate Armed Services Committee draft, released this week, does, however, include the requested change. The House began floor consideration of the bill Wednesday.

The added flexibility would enable the Defense Department to go on the offensive to root out IS safe havens in Iraq and Syria, according to Corri Zoli, the director of research at Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.

“It looks to me like what they’re trying to do is get a little more maneuverability to create some infrastructure for deepening the fight beyond Raqqa and Syria,” Zoli told Al-Monitor. “It’s kind of an attempt to create a lily-pad structure in the Levant to go after [IS] and their entrepreneurial efforts to start miniature caliphates in the region.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis, Zoli added, “is thinking a couple steps ahead. He wants to win the peace, stabilize the region and militarily pressure Iran. If he can do it with logistics all the better.”

But detractors say the effort could further draw the United States into Syria’s complex civil war, even as Congress continues to resist launching a full-fledged debate over updating the 2001 use of force authorization that remains the main legal justification for US involvement in the region …

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