GOP: Airstrikes Good, but Long-Term Strategy Essential for Iraq

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 08:58 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Congressional Republicans supported U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq on Friday, but warned that President Barack Obama needed to develop a broader plan for the Middle East that would halt the development and expansion of such militant groups.

"The president’s authorization of airstrikes is appropriate, but like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region," House Speaker John Boehner said. "Vital national interests are at stake, yet the White House has remained disengaged despite warnings from Iraqi leaders, Congress, and even members of its own administration.

"Such parochial thinking only emboldens the enemy and squanders the sacrifices Americans have made," the Ohio Republican said. "The president needs a long-term strategy — one that defines success as completing our mission, not keeping political promises — and he needs to build the public and congressional support to sustain it."

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte called Obama's actions "basic tactical decisions" that were "no substitute for a strategy to address the growing threat of ISIS to our homeland.

"The strategy should include support for the Kurds to ensure they are not overrun by ISIS, and engagement of our regional partners to address the ISIS threat not only in Iraq, but also in Syria," said Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I continue to believe that the current situation would have been far less likely had the president not ignored the advice of his military commanders to leave a limited follow-on force to protect and institutionalize the hard-fought security gains made by our servicemen and women."

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed regret that "the situation in Iraq has devolved to where it is and the many decisions and circumstances that have led us to this point.

"While I support the administration's short-term actions to respond to the current crisis, I expect them to lay out in the coming days the objectives they hope to achieve and the related time frame," he said. "I expect the administration to cite the relevant authorities they are relying upon for these actions."

U.S. officials said on Friday that it had launched a second round of strikes against ISIS targets in Irbil. A drone struck a mortar there, while four Navy F/A-18 fighter jets struck a seven-vehicle convoy outside the city.

The jets flew off the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier. Irbil is the capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.

In the first round of strikes, the Pentagon said that two F/A-18s dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on an Islamic State mobile artillery piece that was used to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil.

The United States has a consulate and, since Iraq's latest security crisis erupted in June, a joint military operations center staffed by 40 U.S. service members in Irbil.

The strikes were the first aggressive U.S. military action in Iraq 2-1/2 years after Obama withdrew the last American troops, fulfilling a promise he campaigned on to win office in 2008 and ending a bloody U.S. war that began in 2003.

Speaking on Newsmax TV on Friday, Rep. Peter King supported the air strikes, but said the U.S. should arm the Kurds and launch a more aggressive air campaign against ISIS.

"We should be attacking convoys of ISIS, we should be going after their command control centers and we should be doing much more air attacks against ISIS,'' King, a New York Republican, told "The Steve Malzberg Show."

The Islamic State group took control of large chunks of northern and western Iraq in a blitz offensive in June, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul. The violence has pushed Iraq into its worst crisis since the withdrawal.

As many as 40,000 Christian minorities are said to be living on Mount Sinjar. ISIS fighters remain at its base.

President Obama said late Thursday that the United States' limited military action in Iraq could eventually include more military support to Iraqi security forces working to repel Islamic State fighters — but administration officials warned on Friday that American support would not be "prolonged" and would not involve ground troops.

But some administration officials privately expressed uncertainty about Obama's strategy on Friday, which he has said was not aimed at a sustained campaign against the Islamist militants who are threatening Iraqi Government and Kurdish positions.

It is this uncertainty, plus a longstanding unease about Obama's broader foreign policy, that led Republicans to call for the president to develop specific objectives for Iraq.

"Putting U.S. troops back on the ground in Iraq is not an option — but there is a clear humanitarian crisis, with ISIS committing mass murder against Christians, Kurds, and other religious minorities," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California. "It is tragic that the president did not act earlier, when I suggested he use armed drones to prevent many of these atrocities.

"Now it’s a tougher challenge, with limited options such as air strikes, to prevent the slaughter of these innocent people," he said.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chaired the panel from 2011 to last year, called the airstrikes "long overdue."

"For months, the Iraqi government has pleaded with the administration to get engaged in Iraq and provide air support to combat the menacing threat of ISIL that is now endangering Irbil.

"The Kurds have been reliable allies of the U.S. in Iraq, and are outgunned, so they need our support to fight back against ISIL," she added. "Just like we should have acted in Syria long ago, millions of people in Iraq are suffering and are looking to the United States for help — and we must answer the call to prevent a possible genocide.

"The U.S. must take all appropriate and necessary measures to prevent the threat of ISIL from spilling over to neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon that can cause further destabilization in the region and to protect the national security interests of the United States of combatting terrorism," Ros-Lehtinen said.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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