Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09), who is unable to attend today’s hearing, submitted the following statement for the record:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I too would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today.
Just three months ago, the President notified Congress that he had authorized the Commander of Central Command to undertake airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Just two short months ago, on September 23rd, the Administration provided a War Powers Notification of strikes in Syria against ISIL and the Khorasan Group, a part of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al Nusra Front.
Since that time, the United States has taken hundreds of strikes in Iraq and Syria, killing hundreds of ISIL fighters, eliminating their freedom to move in convoys, substantially impacting their ability to sell oil to fund their operations, and driving their leadership underground which complicated their ability to command and control their forces. DOD has deployed about 1400 troops to Iraq to protect the embassy and to begin to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including the Iraqi Army, Counter Terrorism Services, and Kurdish Peshmerga, and the President has announced another 1500 would be deployed for this mission.
We have also airlifted substantial stocks of weapons and ammunition to the ISF and to the Syrian Kurds fighting ISIL in Kobane. The Administration has enlisted somewhere around 60 countries in the fight against ISIL, and a number of them have undertaken strikes in either Iraq or Syria and some have volunteered to send Special Forces to Iraq to help. Congress approved a temporary authority for the Department of Defense to begin training and equipping elements of the moderate Syrian opposition to fight ISIL and the Department has identified a number of training sites, partner nations who will help, and submitted a reprogramming request to begin funding this effort. In other words, we have come a long way in a fairly short time.
While we have made substantial progress, more remains to be done to combat the threat of ISIL. An ISIL able to control territory in Iraq and Syria will, without question, plot and plan attacks against the West. They have already said that is their plan, and that is exactly what happened when al Qaeda had safe haven in Afghanistan. Arguably, the threat of such attacks by ISIL is potentially greater, as they have access to literally thousands of foreign fighters, including many who could enter the United States without a visa. So denying ISIL safe haven is clearly in the United States’ interests. I think a humanitarian aspect of this is also worth stating. As was noted by some speakers on the debate earlier this week, you cannot imagine a more violent and dangerous group of people. The number of folks that they have brutally murdered in Iraq and Syria solely because they refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS and their twisted view of their religion is staggering. This is a group that must be stopped.
Going forward, we have many decisions to make about combatting the threat of ISIL. The President, for example, has requested that Congress authorize the use of military force against the group, rather than relying on the 2001 AUMF to combat al Qaeda. I agree that Congress should debate and pass an AUMF, but I am skeptical that we can assemble a majority to do so. The President has also requested $1.6 billion to train the Iraqi Security Forces and we in Congress need to reauthorize the Syria Train and Equip authority. While I support each of these requests, the totality has left many of my colleagues, and many of the American people, concerned that we are signing up for the War in Iraq all over again.
We should be clear that what we are doing is not a repeat of the Iraq War. We are not, and should not, be deploying large numbers of troops to undertake ground combat in Iraq. Doing so is unnecessary and would likely be highly counterproductive. The Iraqi Security Forces, with sufficient advice, assistance, and retraining, are likely to be able to take the fight to ISIL on the ground with our support from the air. The Iraqis will need to sufficiently reform their politics to be more inclusive and provide the Sunnis with a real role in their system, but U.S. combat troops do not help with that. In fact, deploying large numbers of U.S. combat troops to Iraq might be counterproductive—the Iraqi people are unlikely to welcome us back with open arms and certainly some elements among both the Sunni and Shi’a do not remember our role fondly.
As complicated as Syria is, the situation does not lend itself to a large U.S. ground combat force. Without a question, we need an effective ground element, but that role is best played by Syrian moderate elements that we train and support. U.S. forces could certainly do great damage to ISIL on the ground, but they are unlikely to be able to build the local political and security institutions that will eventually be required to keep ISIL out in the long run and the introduction of U.S. forces may actually attract more attacks from Sunni extremists, foreign jihadists, and even Iranian-sponsored militias. We have an important, even vital, role to play in training, equipping, and supporting those elements while other U.S. forces degrade ISIL and eliminate their leadership and command and control. But I do not see a U.S. ground element as wise or even necessary at the moment.
Going forward, prosecuting the campaign against ISIL in either Iraq or Syria will be extremely complex and challenging. We must not delude ourselves about this. Both Iraq and Syria are complex, messy situations where perfect outcomes are extremely unlikely. Whatever courses of action we undertake will take years and dedicated effort. We will have major disagreements with our allies and partners about desired outcomes. Russia’s role in Syria will be challenging. And while we seem to have overlapping interests with Iran in Iraq, our desired outcomes do not clearly align, and we certainly do not have those same overlapping interests in Syria. All of which to say is that these situations are going to be messy and require constant attention and management.
Fortunately, managed correctly, we have a real path toward the goal of degrading ISIL, denying them safe haven, eliminating their leadership, and curtailing their ability to strike at us or our allies. And I hope our panelists here today can help explain to us, and the American people, that strategy.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time.