The fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) is "in every sense of the word a war, not a counterterrorism operation," retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane said Saturday..
And to win that war, troops are needed on the ground.
Obama has described the fight against ISIS as being similar to anti-terror operations against organizations in Yemen and Somalia, Keane told Larry Kudlow on his talk show Saturday, "but this operation is different… the scope, the sale of difficulty, all are dramatically different."
Unlike traditional counterterrorism operations, in which Special Forces troops "attack people under night" on a small scale, matters with ISIS are much larger.
"Most of the fighting will be done very traditionally," said Keane, in battles in which the United States will support forces with "mortars, with artillery, with close air support. That is a conventional military operation."
Keane said he approves "of the overall intent of [President Barack Obama's] strategy. We needed that kind of clarity, so we got it."
But the campaign should have started the night the president was talking, Keane said, and the centerpiece of the battles will depend on a ground campaign.
"None of us know if the collage of forces will be successful," said Keane. "That's where the risk is... that's where the unknown is."
ISIS is growing more rapidly than anybody had expected, said Keane, referring to intelligence assessments that show that between 20,000 and 31,500 people are fighting with ISIS.
And much of the infrastructure for those troops has been pushed back into Syria, Keane said. ISIS will have to be hurt significantly there as well.
"We've been taking satellite pictures of this for months," Keane told Kudlow. "We've been doing standoff high-altitude flights over it for months."
Keane, though, says Obama is making a mistake by only allowing the advisers who are being placed in Iraq to be placed at brigade headquarters, rather than as "low as possible" with units because he's concerned about their welfare. He argued that the military knows the risks of war, and to fight this battle, there will need to be ground support as well as air strikes.
Further, he said, the president is making a mistake if he doesn't provide Special Forces ground controllers to "facilitate the use of power when it is supporting troops that are on the offense."
But Obama is against that, said Keane, "because he fears that those are boots on the ground and some of them may be captured or killed."
Obama can also send in special operations forces, such as the highly classified Delta Forces or SEAL Team Six, said Keane.
"Whatever the means is, they can achieve surprise," said Keane. "We need to take down ISIS leadership, and we need to have direct assault forces."
He doesn't believe the president has ordered those forces, but then again, "you can use this force clandestinely and not tell people you are doing it."
Keane also pointed out that the Central Intelligence Agency is "all over ISIS," but he is not sure the scope of the operation because those details are top secret.
Obama did make a mistake in not arming the Free Syrian Army months ago, as leaders like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta recommended, Keane told Kudlow.
"They're secular, they want a democracy, and they do not want an Islamic state," said Keane. "They've always identified with the United States."
The CIA has vetted the Free Syrian Army, he said, and believes that weapons can be given to them. Saudi Arabia has been giving the troops weapons, said Keane and "to our knowledge, none have fallen into enemy hands."
And as the United States "has a classified way of keeping track of our weapons," the U.S. should feel comfortable supplying the Free Syrian Army, which needs the items "robustly, they need them earnestly," Keane said.
Keane also called for more immediate action where ISIS is concerned, but complained that the president is not always "decisive with resources... he does not take charge of it" when he makes a decision.
"He has to demonstrate to the coalition leaders that he has the determination," Keane said.
But the ISIS issue does need taken care of, Keane said, because the insurgents are "attacking our vital interests in the Middle East left and right, and this is about the United States' interest. The real issue is the security of the American people and our resources."
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