President Trump has placed a high priority on rebuilding the U.S. military and allowing his commanders to make more calls. So far, in the administration’s first six months, successes have been piling up.
Here are the top five:
1. Islamic State Defeat in Mosul
The U.S.-led coalition assisted Iraqi security forces in uprooting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its stronghold in Iraq, a major strategic and symbolic victory. ISIS had stormed into Iraq the summer of 2014, seizing large swaths of land and establishing Mosul as its de facto capital in Iraq.
Iraqi forces are now moving to clear other pockets of Iraq where there are still ISIS holdouts, with Tal Afar, just west of Mosul, being the next target.
Although the Mosul offensive began under former President Obama, President Trump called for a review of the ISIS war and made two significant changes. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the changes on May 19 during a Pentagon briefing:
First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.
Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.
The fight for Raqqa, the capital of its “caliphate,” is also underway, beginning last month. U.S.-led coalition forces are assisting local Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces on the ground, who now have the city encircled.
Big wins against ISIS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2017
2. Diminished Islamic State Presence in Afghanistan
The U.S. military has been keeping ISIS on its back foot in Afghanistan after declaring its presence there in 2015. The U.S. military killed the emir of the terrorist group’s Afghanistan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, last week. Abu Sayed was killed in a U.S. strike in the group’s headquarters in Kunar province on July 11.
“The raid also killed other ISIS-K members and will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said.
White said Afghan and U.S. forces launched a counter-ISIS-K offensive in early March 2017 to drive ISIS from their presence in Nangarhar. In April, the military dropped its largest conventional bomb on ISIS there.
A Pentagon report in June said ISIS-K has declined “in size, capability, and ability to hold territory” between December and May.
3. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Fleet to Officially Boast Eleven Vessels Again
The USS Gerald R. Ford will join the aircraft carrier fleet – the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier – this month.
It is the first aircraft carrier of a new class in forty years, since the Nimitz-class carriers were commissioned in the 1970s, and will bring the Navy’s carrier count back up to 11 for the first time in five years, in accordance with the law.
Trump has pledged to build a twelve-carrier Navy and this milestone is a big step towards that. It is also symbolic of the president’s plans to rebuild the military.
“After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history,” Trump said on the Ford in March.
The administration has proposed a $603 billion defense budget for 2018, $19 billion over what former President Obama had planned.
4. Trump Installing His Team at the Pentagon
The Senate signed off on Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, this week, with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 92-7 vote.
Six Democrats and one independent opposed his nomination: Sens. Corey Booker (NJ), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Ed Markey (MA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The confirmation fills a key policy-making role at the Pentagon. He last served as senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Boeing Company.
Shanahan is taking over for Bob Work, an Obama holdover who had agreed to stay until his replacement could be found.
Normally, his confirmation would be a normal thing, but in this charged political atmosphere, nothing is normal. In addition, Democrats have been stalling confirmation of Trump’s nominees.
His confirmation brings the number of Senate-confirmed appointees at the Pentagon to six, out of 22 nominations so far.
5. Trump Challenging China in the South China Sea
President Trump has begun to challenge China in the South China Sea, sending the U.S. military to sail or fly within 12 nautical miles of land features claimed by China.
The purpose of these operations, called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs), is to make sure China knows the waters remain open to the international community, despite China and other countries’ claims of ownership.
Former President Obama had set a moratorium on such operations in the South China Sea between 2012 and 2015 out of concern it would upset China.
But Trump has authorized three of these operations so far since May, the same number that Obama conducted in all of 2016.
The first FONOP occurred on May 24 when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef.
The second one occurred on July 2 when the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.
The third one occurred on July 7 when two B-1B Lancer bombers flew over the South China Sea shortly before Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.