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The fight against Islamic State could accelerate but it won’t go down a whole new road

Don’t rule out contributing more to the effort against the Islamic State group.

But it is likely to be modest and incremental rather than drastic. Here are a few reasons why.

For the past two years, the routine answer – both publicly and privately – when government figures were asked whether might contribute more, was that we are already doing more than our fair share.

The coalition-backed Iraqis are slowly but surely winning their fight. Syria is obviously a more complex question but IS is under pressure there was well.

Why, when the current plan in Iraq is working and the Syrian plan can’t be built just around throwing more military force at the problem, should dramatically increase its involvement?

Consider the domestic politics, if nothing else. After being told that we are making an appropriate, proportionate and effective contribution for the past two years, hands up who supports ‘s joining a drastic escalation by a new US president who has vowed to “bomb the shit out of” IS, to obliterate them in months and take all the oil in the region? And who, by the way, is openly brawling with his own intelligence community?

More plausibly, we will see a realistic plan that encompasses political and humanitarian dimensions as well as military ones from the seasoned and impressive US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. He is a good friend to and will not ask us for something we cannot realistically agree to.

Among the options this leaves on the table are an increase in our bombing raids, either through more planes or a higher tempo for the existing ones, and a bolstering of training of the Iraqis.

While both of these have been important contributions, it’s worth noting that two more planes are already available under the original approval signed by then prime minister Tony Abbott, and the training effort has already partly transitioned towards teaching police as well as soldiers. Any additions on these fronts will not be game-changers but would satisfy the definition of the acceleration Mattis has flagged.

Beyond that, the commandos who are advising and assisting Iraqis in the retaking of Mosul could get closer to the frontline or even accompany the locals without actually taking the lead in combat. It could speed up the retaking of Mosul but expose our troops to greater risk, which would need serious discussion.

There is a possibility that small numbers of SAS soldiers could help US special operations troops, such as Delta Force, to advise local anti-IS fighters in Syria.

But larger numbers of conventional forces in Syria, which CNN reported was being discussed within the Pentagon though not yet planned for, is a remote prospect at best.

Of course, everything these days has to include the caveat that no one knows what President Donald Trump might do, but for now, our defence planners will be preparing to consider more incremental changes. Don’t expect a dramatic break from the current template.

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