About That Plan to Annihilate ISIS…

I’m still sick. Everyone needs to feel sorry for me. What’s worse, I had to drag myself to the doctor’s office yesterday for some lab tests anyway, and my favorite phlebotomist1 cheerfully told me that what I had was “going around.” It always is, isn’t it? “And it lasts four weeks,” she told me. “After a week you might think you’re finally over it, but then it comes back like a freight train.”

Lovely. So what can I blog about while I’m wooly headed? How about Trump? Yesterday I was wondering what’s up with his secret plan to annihilate ISIS. His generals were supposed to report back to him in February, and now it’s June and nothing much seems to have happened. We armed the Kurds to help us in the battle for Raqqa, and…that’s about it. So this morning I decided to do a quick Google to see if I’d missed anything. This is from Brian McKeon, a former Obama official, writing in Foreign Policy:

On May 19, a day when Washington was consumed with the latest developments in the scandals enveloping the White House, the Pentagon announced that the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, respectively — would be renominated for another term. The commanders leading the military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, and Syria — all places with significant Islamic State presences — also remain in place.

That same day, Dunford and Secretary of Defense James Mattis updated the Pentagon press corps on the counter-Islamic State campaign, which Trump has ordered them to accelerate….They highlighted only two significant changes: delegation of more authority to field commanders, and a tactical shift from shoving the Islamic State out of safe locations to surrounding it in its strongholds.

So all the same generals that Trump ridiculed during the campaign are still running things. There have been a couple of minor tactical shifts, but that’s all. There will be no expanded troop presence. And far from “bombing the hell” out of ISIS, airstrikes have increased at about the same rate as usual:

On the other hand, civilian casualties have skyrocketed since Trump was inaugurated:

The increase in airstrikes and civilian casualties isn’t surprising on its own. The Battle for Mosul began last October, and a higher battlefield tempo was inevitable. But even in January and February, when the Pentagon was still operating under the Obama doctrine, they managed to keep civilian casualties relatively low even though the number of airstrikes was high. Under Trump, airstrikes have stayed at the January levels, but civilian casualties have more than doubled. According to Defense Secretary James Mattis, this is just a “fact of life.”

Anyway, that’s what’s happening. As near as I can tell, we’re continuing to fight ISIS with pretty much the same plan we’ve had all along. The only substantial difference is that apparently we don’t care much about civilian casualties anymore.

Oh, and we dropped a gigantic bomb in Afghanistan. That sure seemed to get the media’s attention. They just love shiny, dramatic new things, even if they don’t actually mean anything.

1Seriously. One of the side effects of cancer is that you develop relationships with the folks who draw blood. I always go to the lab in the afternoon because that’s when Karen works. (To be totally honest, it’s when Pedro doesn’t work, and I’m actually avoiding him more than anything else.)


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.