(The New York Times ) The Pentagon has ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq, issuing a directive last week to prepare a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group that has threatened more attacks against American troops.
But the United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran. In a blunt memo last week, the commander, Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, wrote that a new military campaign would also require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq and divert resources from what has been the primary American military mission there: training Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State.
The Pentagon directive and General White’s response — both classified internal military communications — were described by several American officials with direct knowledge of their contents. The exchange comes amid a simmering fight inside the Trump administration over policy toward Iran and the course of America’s war in Iraq, which began just over 17 years ago.
Some top officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, have been pushing for aggressive new action against Iran and its proxy forces — and see an opportunity to try to destroy Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq as leaders in Iran are distracted by the pandemic crisis in their country.
Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been wary of a sharp military escalation, warning it could further destabilize the Middle East at a time when President Trump has said he hopes to reduce the number of American troops in the region.