“What I do is I authorize my military,” in response to a press question about the use of a massive bomb in an assault on Islamic State group positions in Afghanistan. “We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.
“Frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately. If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what has happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there is a tremendous difference.”
The Afghanistan airstrike — the first battlefield use of the military’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon — on Thursday was the latest in a series of large scale, sometimes controversial military actions by the Defense Department in Trump’s first three months in office.
Earlier this month, the military fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. In January, U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid against an al-Qaida compound in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and several civilians.
Pentagon leaders have also come under scrutiny for an airstrike in Iraq in March that killed more than 100 civilians, due to incomplete information supplied by friendly forces on the ground.
And the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria has slowly risen in recent months, in response to international efforts to combat ISIS in the region.
White House officials said Trump was heavily involved in authorizing the Yemen raid and Syria strike, but Trump appeared to indicate he was not the final authority on the use of the MOAB against terrorist positions this week.
During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to review rules of engagement for U.S. troops in war zones and limit micro-management of military operations by executive branch bureaucrats, a frequent criticism of President Obama by conservatives.
But military officials said the rules of engagement have not been updated for Iraq yet, and have not publicly commented on whether they have been given more independent operational authority in recent weeks.
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the Afghanistan attack came after officials “took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation.”
He also said the attack sent a clear message to U.S. adversaries.
“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group, we must deny them operational space, which we did,” he said.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.