How Trump is empowering the military – and raising some eyebrows

Updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon June 26, 2017
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:34
New rules for targeting terror operations?
A picture of migrants walking along the Roja river, near Ventimiglia, Italy northwest, towards the French border. Around 400 refugees left the camp on the bank of the Roja river in Ventimiglia shortly after midnight to try to cross the border with France led by some German activists. Ventimiglia, Imperia, Italy, 26 June 2017. ANSA/ CHIARA CARENINI (ANSA via AP)
Chiara Carenini/ANSA via AP
A picture of migrants walking along the Roja river, near Ventimiglia, Italy northwest, towards the French border. Around 400 refugees left the camp on the bank of the Roja river in Ventimiglia shortly after midnight to try to cross the border with France led by some German activists. Ventimiglia, Imperia, Italy, 26 June 2017. ANSA/ CHIARA CARENINI (ANSA via AP)
Now playing
02:16
White House slashes refugee cap to new low (2018)
bolton us protect citizens international criminal court sot vpx_00001926.jpg
bolton us protect citizens international criminal court sot vpx_00001926.jpg
Now playing
01:45
Bolton: International Criminal Court dead to us
Getty Images
Now playing
02:07
Trump to declassify documents in Russia probe
CNN
Now playing
01:47
Woodward: Mattis had to explain war prevention
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:45
Did John Bolton contact an accused Russian agent?
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
WH defends decision to revoke clearances
former Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
CNN
former Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
Now playing
02:15
Fmr. ambassador resigned in protest of Trump
Now playing
00:30
Trump: Syria humanitarian crisis is a disgrace
US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, December 18, 2017.
President Donald Trump rolled out his first "National Security Strategy", a combative document designed to put meat on the bones of his "America First" sloganeering.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, December 18, 2017. President Donald Trump rolled out his first "National Security Strategy", a combative document designed to put meat on the bones of his "America First" sloganeering.
Now playing
02:05
Trump unveils national security plan
Trump governors
CNN
Trump governors
Now playing
01:21
Trump: We have to start winning wars again
Trump 05172018
Pool
Trump 05172018
Now playing
02:03
Trump contradicts Bolton on North Korea
US President Donald Trump watches as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks after taking the oath of office in the Oval Office of the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump watches as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks after taking the oath of office in the Oval Office of the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:09
Trump's plan to defeat ISIS due soon
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (L) as his national security adviser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 20, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (L) as his national security adviser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 20, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM
Now playing
01:43
NSA McMaster breaks with Trump on Islam
The Navy's Official Seal
navy.mil
The Navy's Official Seal
Now playing
01:21
Trump's nominee for Navy secretary withdraws
CNN
Now playing
02:25
CIA analyst quits, blames President Trump

Story highlights

Trump has overseen a steady transfer of power from the White House to the Pentagon

The moves are intended to empower the military at a tactical level

(CNN) —  

In his first six months in office, President Donald Trump has overseen a steady transfer of power from the White House to the Pentagon, handing off several warfighting authorities that previously rested in his hands – and those of past presidents of both parties – to the Pentagon and the commanders overseeing the US’ military campaigns.

The moves are intended to empower the military at a tactical level, bolstering the US’ intensifying fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups to praise from several current and former military officials.

But those efforts have also raised concerns about whether Trump expects to face the same level of accountability for military decisions he has kicked down to the Pentagon and have drawn attention to the inherent risks of downsizing the White House’s role in overseeing the US’ escalating military campaign against ISIS and al-Qaeda and its offshoots.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump’s most significant step in this direction came earlier this month when he empowered Defense Secretary James Mattis, a recently retired four-star general, to set troop levels in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon and the White House have downplayed the move by noting that Mattis can only act within the guardrails of the current US strategy in that country. But the move effectively empowers Mattis to send thousands more US troops into the warzone without the commander in chief’s signoff for the first time in a 16-year war that has spanned three presidents.

In Yemen and Somalia, Trump has given US commanders waging the fight against terrorist groups there more freedom to launch raids and offensive airstrikes without the White House’s OK by designating provinces in both countries as “areas of active hostilities,” leading to a marked uptick in airstrikes in Yemen.

In Iraq and Syria, the President has also granted the Pentagon more freedom to manage troop levels.

Meanwhile, the White House’s National Security Council – which some at the Pentagon criticized as overbearing in the Obama administration – has seen its power diminished, leaving Pentagon officials to describe a more streamlined decision-making process with fewer White House-crafted hoops to jump through on some military decisions.

The CIA, too, has been empowered by Trump, regaining the authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists – actions President Barack Obama chose to personally authorize via the military.