Senators call for air strikes, drone attacks

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The White House heard growing calls on Thursday to authorize air strikes against Islamic militants who have taken over the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Mosul.

Hawkish Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both called for airstrikes, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said an air attack “might be the only way” to change battle.

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The senators spoke after Defense officials provided a briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the U.S. should consider the use of drones with hellfire missiles if “Iraq nears collapse.”

Nelson made the comment on Twitter.

Senators leaving the briefing described the situation in Iraq as “grave,” with McCain calling it the greatest challenge to the U.S. since the Cold War.

President Obama said all options are on the table for dealing with Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni militant group, has gained ground across Iraq at lightning quick speed, overrunning government forces and threatening to march on Baghdad only three years after the last U.S. forces left the country.

Separately, Kurdish forces took over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Thursday amid reports that Iraqi forces had left the city.

The developments have sent shockwaves throughout the region and Capitol Hill, though a number of senators expressed caution at the next steps by the U.S.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the Iraq War was started “without adequate consideration for the consequences,” and that the United States should carefully consider its options.

He also faulted Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government for not reaching out to Sunni citizens and suggested airstrikes wouldn’t help the situation on the ground if forces loyal to the Iraqi government wouldn’t fight.

“It’s unclear how airstrikes on our part can succeed, unless the Iraqi army is willing to fight, and that’s uncertain given the fact that several Iraqi army divisions have melted away,” he said in a statement. “While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq has not been so much a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders.”

Similarly, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a strident critic of the administration’s national security policies, said it was “too early” to call for airstrikes.

Graham and McCain, on the other hand, said the U.S. had few other options.

“There is no scenario where we can stop the bleeding in Iraq without American airpower,” Graham said after the briefing. He urged the president to address the country on the situation and immediately withdraw all U.S. personnel from the embassy in Baghdad.

The only common view among those who attended the classified session is that the U.S. should not send in ground troops.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted the president for “taking a nap” while conditions on the ground worsened.

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year, and it’s not like we haven’t seen, over the last five or six months, these terrorists moving in, taking control of western Iraq,” he said.

McCain called for Obama’s entire national security team, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, to be fired.

He said the administration should “call back in people who succeeded in Iraq,” such as Gen. David Petraeus.

But Inhofe and others declined to join those calls.