Since August the United States and its coalition partners have launched 334 airstrikes against Islamic State targets, including 248 in Iraq and 86 in Syria, according to latest data from the Department of Defense.
Although the coalition airstrikes have been successful in terms of degrading the ability of Islamic State militants to carry out large scale attacks, they are proving to be incapable of destroying the estimated 40,000 Sunni Islamic State militants who have seized large territories in northwestern Iraq and northern Syria where Iraq’s security forces and the Syrian military are incapable of defeating the violent jihadi group that has persecuted ethnic and religious minorities across the region.
Senator Graham said on CNN that the strategy of aerial bombardment is not going to work to destroy Islamic State and “at the end of the day, you cannot destroy ISIL in Syria without a ground component.”
“Mr. President, level with the American people. You need boots on the ground” Sen. Graham insisted before acknowledging that American soldiers need to go back to Syria and Iraq as part of a coalition.
Senator Graham believes that we’re going to need more than 4,000 troops on the ground to destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria as debate widens across the United States about the role the U.S. should be playing in the Middle East following the overthrow of former Iraqi President Sadaam Hussein in 2003 and the Arab spring movement beginning in December 2010 that saw the protests of many Arab dictatorships and absolute monarchies but has resulted in a power vacuum and the rise of radical Islamic groups across the Middle East and northern Africa.
Senator Graham said that Obama’s “incompetent decisions in Syria and Iraq led to this problem” and directly cited Obama’s decision to not train the Syrian Free Army in 2012 to take over Syria from President Assad’s control in Damascus before Hezbollah and Russia moved to support their regional Alawite ally in a sectarian conflict that has escalated to a bloody civil war with Islamic State gaining international recruits and taking over control northern Syria and northwest Iraq.
Senator Graham explained that it’s “unacceptable” for U.S. General John Allen to say it may be up to a year before the Iraqi army can try to retake Mosul and criticized President Obama for not taking a more aggressive military stance to destroy Islamic State.
“It seems to be that the president is all in when it comes to Ebola. I want to compliment him for sending troops to help get ahead of this in Africa, but we have a series of half- measures with ISIL that are going to draw this conflict out, and will not lead to the ISIL’s destruction, which makes it much more dangerous for over here,” Senator Graham said.
Senator Graham claimed that the president’s decision to train 5,000 Syrian Free Army fighters in Saudi Arabia without first establishing a no-fly zone to take Assad’s airpower off the table will lead to their slaughter.
“It is immoral” Graham stated.
On Friday U.S. General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, conducted a press conference from the American embassy in Baghdad where he voiced support for President Obama’s decision to not send in American ground troops to Iraq, insisting that it will “take time and patience” to restore the capacity of Iraq’s security forces to take on the fight against Islamic State.
“As President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said, this is ultimately a fight that the Iraqi people will have to win. We cannot win it for you” Allen explained.
“We must build Iraqi capacity to take on the fight. That is why the U.S. will not send combat troops to Iraq, but instead continue our support for Iraqi security forces through military advisers, training, and capacity building” Allen said before adding that they will attack ISIL in the financial space and in the information space, as well.
Allen said that he has great respect for Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi’s vision of the necessary reforms and efforts to reach out to Iraq’s neighbors to work with them on the shared challenge of degrading and defeating ISIL which comes at a pivotal time when Abadi’s government in Baghdad is attempting to restore trust with Iraq’s Sunni population that were marginalized under former Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, who stepped down this year and ruled Iraq after Sadaam Hussein was overthrown.
Allen explained during the press conference that “we are committed to working in close support of Iraq regaining territory that ISIL has currently taken over, and making sure that the new government is able to control its territory once ISIL is pushed back.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is seeking to re-train and re-organize Iraq’s security forces that numbers 200,000 but has struggled with systematic issues and low morale after spending recent years dealing with ambushes and violence directed at them outside of Baghdad.
The U.S. government spent nearly $25 billion on training, equipping, and sustaining the Iraqi security forces up to the end of 2012, according to a 2013 inspector general report.