President Donald Trump’s pressure on the military to “demolish and destroy” the Islamic State is raising anxiety inside the Pentagon that the United States could end up in another open-ended ground war, according to current and former military officials.
The U.S. has quietly sent hundreds of additional troops to Iraq and Syria since Trump took office, and is considering dispatching thousands more to counter ISIS, fight militants in Yemen and stem a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. But the deliberations are testing Trump’s promise to steer clear of foreign entanglements, and has his military commanders questioning whether they can maintain their meticulously drawn line between supporting local forces and leading the fight.
“How much more blood do we want to shed for Iraq?” asked one senior officer who recently returned from the war zone.
The escalating risk of U.S. casualties is shadowing the Pentagon’s internal strategy sessions, the officials said in interviews. Trump’s demand for a more aggressive strategy also raises concerns among commanders about whether they can accomplish the mission without turning U.S. troops into a substitute for local fighters, which until now have depended only on U.S. military advisers, special operations forces and air strikes.
“Some call this accelerating the campaign; some call it mission creep,” said one military officer involved in the discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly.