Tags: Emerging Threats | Homeland Security | Iraq in Crisis | ISIS/Islamic State | John McCain | Middle East | Syria | War on Terrorism

Republicans: Syria Airstrikes Good, but US Needs Ground Troops

By    |   Tuesday, 23 September 2014 09:05 PM

Republicans praised airstrikes led by the United States on Syria on Tuesday, but said  bolder efforts — even some ground troops — will be needed ultimately to defeat Islamic State and Khorasan Group militants.

"Last night's airstrikes should be just an opening salvo against ISIS in Syria," said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. "This will be a long, difficult campaign.

"As ISIS regroups and adapts, we and our partners will ultimately need a limited presence of troops on the ground — not to invade and occupy Syria or Iraq, but to advise local forces, direct airstrikes, gather intelligence, and conduct Special Forces operations," the senators said.

McCain, of Arizona, and Graham, who represents South Carolina, are both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They have long called on President Barack Obama to increase airstrikes on ISIS, which also is known as ISIL. The group has beheaded three Westerners in recent weeks.

Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said the strikes were integral to "degrading ISIS' capabilities, but ultimately the terrorist group cannot be defeated by airstrikes alone."

"The commander in chief must now work to ensure our regional allies are engaged on the ground to effectively eliminate the threat ISIS poses to the region, to our allies, and to the United States," the South Dakota senator said.

The U.S.-led coalition began the airstrikes late Monday, conducting more than 200 in three waves of attacks launched over four hours. They struck as many as a dozen ISIS targets in Syria, including Islamic State headquarters, training camps and barracks, as well as targets of the rival Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

The attacks occurred with the help of Arab states Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — opening a new front in the battle against jihadist groups.

Congress last week authorized the Pentagon to begin training and equipping vetted moderate Syrian rebels to battle ISIS.

The United States on its own struck the Khorasan Group, a new al-Qaida cell that the Pentagon said was "nearing the execution phase" of a direct attack on the U.S. or Europe.

Obama vowed a sustained campaign showcasing a rare U.S.-Arab partnership aimed at Muslim extremists.

"This is not America's fight alone," Obama said. "We're going to do what's necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world."

Obama said the United States was "proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder" with Arab partners, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, said that Qatar played a supporting role in the strikes.

The president called House Speaker John Boehner late Monday to inform him of the strikes, while Vice President Joe Biden called other congressional leaders.

"ISIL is a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States and our allies," Boehner said Tuesday. "I support the airstrikes launched by the president, understanding that this is just one step in what must be a larger effort to destroy and defeat this terrorist organization."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama was "right to keep the country and Congress updated on military and diplomatic efforts — just as it will be important for the president to update on how the air campaign will fit into the overall strategy to destroy ISIL."

"The president still has not presented to the American people his long-term objectives or vision for what success looks like in Syria," said Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "So, it's not clear how his short-term tactic to 'simultaneously pressure ISIL' fits into a larger strategy that can succeed.

"While these airstrikes in Syria can begin to degrade ISIL capabilities, they certainly won't defeat or destroy the terrorist army, just as we have seen in Iraq," he added. "I am encouraged by the participation of our Arab partners in last night's operations, but am disappointed that other allies in the region, in particular Turkey, were not more involved.

"This is a shared fight against a clear and growing threat, and will require additional cooperation and contributions from our partners," Inhofe said.

McCain and Graham said the White House needed to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who gave indirect support to the airstrikes, saying he supported "any international anti-terrorism effort."

U.S. officials have been concerned that any strikes against militants fighting Assad could be seen as inadvertently helping the leader whom Obama wants to see ousted from power.

"To succeed, the administration must also resolve a contradiction in its policy: its desire to deal with ISIS first and defer the challenge posed by the Assad regime for later," the senators said. "Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury.

"We cannot pretend that moderate opposition forces in Syria will stop resisting a tyrant who has killed nearly 200,000 Syrians. Nor can we pretend that Assad will stop attacking moderate Syrian groups that remain committed to his ouster — especially when the United States and our partners still, correctly, share the same goal and will now be arming and training Assad's moderate opponents.

"The sooner the administration wakes up to this reality, the better," Graham and McCain said. "It must recognize that it is neither effective nor moral to train and equip thousands of Syrians to fight ISIS, but make no commitment to defend them from Assad's continued airstrikes and barrel bombs."

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, was among a number of Republicans who called on Obama to seek authorization to use military force against ISIS in Syria.

"This is constitutionally necessary, since we're in a whole new country — Syria — and it's the right thing to do in order to properly engage Congress and the American people," Vitter said.

Citing the War Powers Act of 1973, which requires congressional approval for military attacks within 60 days or for a pullout of U.S. troops within 30 days, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith said: "I am glad the president continues to affirm his resolve to defeat the Islamic State and groups with ties to al-Qaida who have plotted against the U.S. and our allies."

"Our enemies must once more fear us as we stand against forces of evil in the world that would do harm to our nation."

The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report.

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Republicans praised airstrikes led by the United States on Syria on Tuesday, but said bolder efforts — even some ground troops — will be needed ultimately to defeat Islamic State and Khorasan Group militants.
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Tuesday, 23 September 2014 09:05 PM
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