Senate Republicans generally support President Obama’s push to train Syrian fighters, but some questioned Tuesday whether it is tough enough to take on ISIS.
“It will take an army to beat an army,” said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, adding that “there was a collective sigh of relief at ISIS headquarters” when the president ruled out putting boots on the ground to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The comments were part of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the U.S. strategy against ISIS.
Republican senators questioned—if not outright suggested—that the administration’s strategy cannot be effective without additional involvement from the U.S. military.
“I’m not confident how this is going to happen without the assistance of our trained special operators on the ground,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The New Hampshire Republican suggested embedding U.S. soldiers with Iraqi forces.
It’s unclear how many troops they believe would be needed. Inhofe, who said the administration’s strategy is “fundamentally detached” from reality, said he’s “not advocating for any division or combat elements on the ground. But it’s foolhardy for the Obama administration to tie its hands and so firmly rule out the possibility of air controllers and special operators on the ground.”
Dempsey seemed open to the possibility of sending U.S. combat troops into the fight against ISIS, but said that he doesn’t currently believe it is needed.
“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that,” Dempsey said. For example, if Iraqi and Kurdish forces decide to retake Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq which is currently under ISIS control, Dempsey said he could suggest sending in U.S. advisers.
The Pentagon announced earlier this month that an additional 475 troops are headed to Iraq, which will bring the total U.S. military presence in the country up to approximately 1,600. But the administration has drawn a line between these forces—largely focused on diplomatic security, advising missions, and carrying out airstrikes—and sending combat troops, which the president has ruled out.