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Weekly Column: We Must Act Decisively to Defeat ISIL

Protecting our nation through a strong defense is a fundamental role of the federal government. We have the greatest military in the world, and it’s an honor to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee to give them the support they need to continue to protect our nation. The House and Senate recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, which supports our troops and provides them with the tools necessary to successfully complete their missions. Yet, while Congress has done its part, I am concerned about the administration’s strategy to combat and defeat ISIL in the Middle East and the threat ISIL poses to the U.S.

ISIL emerged two years ago out of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Since its formation, it has made alarming advances in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa as other violent terrorist groups pledge loyalty to ISIL. This group is the most dangerous, extremist Islamic terrorist group history has ever seen and now poses a direct threat to the United States. ISIL is a jihadist organization following an extreme interpretation of Islam which conducts unspeakable acts of violence against Muslims and non-Muslims, to include women and children. The United Nations holds ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and they have also been accused of ethnic cleansing on a “historic scale.” Their ultimate goal is to unite the entire Arab world under a violent extremist Islamist caliphate, and they are the first terrorist organization to hold large swaths of land from which they can obtain financial and other resources as well as organize and train their fighters. They have destabilized the entire Middle East and pose a threat to the United States and other nations outside the region partly because of the many individuals from the U.S. and Europe who have joined ISIL’s ranks and can one day return home to commit terrorist acts.

Many experts view ISIL, in conjunction with other expanding threats, as posing the most complex and uncertain international environment for the U.S. since the end of World War II. They pose a direct threat to our nation and American interests all over the world. ISIL must be defeated – and can be – but the administration’s halfhearted strategy to defeat them is failing to produce results, even emboldening them.

I recently had the opportunity to question Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey about the administration’s lack of a strategy to defeat ISIL during a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing. During that hearing, Sec. Carter acknowledged that the Pentagon’s effort to defeat ISIL has been severely slowed due to a lack of Syrian and Iraqi recruits to undergo U.S. training and eventually join the fight.  Shockingly, so far we’ve only trained 60 Syrians to fight ISIL instead of the thousands the administration promised.  I believe the reason we are having trouble finding recruits is because potential fighters lack confidence in our commitment to support them over the long term and fear what will happen to them and their families if we abandon them. Unfortunately, President Obama’s strategy, with its multiple constraints on what our troops in Iraq can do, does little to convey such a commitment. In particular, the administration refuses to provide Iraqi security forces with U.S. advisors who would serve with them on the front lines and forward air controllers to direct airstrikes to help them. Providing this kind of support would reassure Iraqis of our commitment and help provide backbone to forces who, with our help, have the potential for success.

Just as General Petraeus rallied the Sunni tribes in 2006 and 2007, we must do so again in order to stop the Sunnis from joining ISIL. The Sunnis feel as if they are second class citizens in Iraq due to Shiite control of the country, and their way of fighting against this control is to join ISIL. By working with the Sunni tribes and their elders, we can begin to recruit fighters in our cause as well as reduce the number of fighters providing support to ISIL. We must also work to create greater ethnic and religious tolerance in Iraq among the Kurds, Shia and Sunnis.

No one wants to see American boots on the ground in the Middle East, but this administration’s failing ISIL strategy threatens the region, country and the entire world. We must change our current course and act quickly and decisively to defeat ISIL. Failing to do so would be a profound failure to keep Americans safe.

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