The U.S. Senate approved the “ISIS bill” 78-22 in a ‘last gasp’ vote Thursday, approving a measure to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels one day after members of Congress had done the same.
After the vote, both senators and congress members then fled Capitol Hill, heading for a grueling fall campaign prior to midterm elections.
The bill itself went straight to the desk of President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
But even as the president prepared to approve the measure intended to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, U.S. military leaders are growing more concerned. So is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), who was quoted by the Washington Post as saying Obama should listen to his commanders.
“I think it’s very important that he does follow the advice and counsel that he receives, the professional advice of the military. They are the ones best suited to do that,” McKeon said.
But as to Obama’s ban on ‘boots on the ground,’ the lawmaker added, “I realize he’s commander in chief, he has the final say and the final obligation and responsibility. I would also request that he not take options off the table.”
Retired Marine General James Mattis told the House Intelligence Committee in testimony on Thursday that Obama’s ban on combat troops in the Middle East would cripple the military.
“Half-hearted or tentative efforts – or air strikes alone – can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” Mattis told American lawmakers. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”
The testimony followed a public suggestion two days earlier by the chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, not to rule out the possibility. According to the Post, Dempsey pointed out that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander for the Middle East, had already made the recommendation at least once in connection with a case in Iraq – but was overruled.
The U.S. military has carried out 176 air strikes against ISIS in Iraq since August 8. Obama has hinted the U.S. will also carry out air strikes against the terror group in Syria as well.
But given the clear opposition expressed by Iran and Russia, let alone Syria — and to some extent, the threatening posture maintained by Iran over the issue – it is not at all clear when or even if Obama will actually send American warplanes into Syrian skies.