Veterans in Congress pained by Iraq's collapse

 

Two Iraq war veterans now in Congress, a Republican and a Democrat, agree that it is painful to watch hard-won U.S. military gains unravel in a matter of days.

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Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who served as a pilot in the National Guard, says the air base where he was stationed is now either overrun or surrounded by extremist militants linked to al Qaeda.

“The base I was stationed at is either surrounded or taken over by now,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“When I was there — being there at night sleeping … you get attacked by mortars, but you never felt like anybody was going to come in the fence. It was secured. It's not like that anymore,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) says it's painful to think about how many lives and much money it cost to establish a Democratic government in Iraq and then watch it collapse in the face of an insurgency.

She served 12 months as a military police captain in the National Guard.

“During my first deployment there to Iraq in 2005, I worked in a medical unit and really on a daily basis saw firsthand the incredibly huge and ugly cost of war and the toll and the price that our troops paid on a daily basis,” she said.

“It's painful to see their hard work and watching the Iraqi troops literally shed their uniforms,” she added.

While both lawmakers agreed the chaos that has broken out across Iraq is deeply disheartening, they cannot agree on a possible solution.

Kinzinger said the United States should “get in there, work with a political solution with Iraq, but push back this very evil organization, ISIS, and give some breathing space for the Iraqi government to do what it needs to do and reform.”

But he was vague about what military options he would endorse, cautioning that air strikes are “not necessarily the panacea.”

Gabbard disputed the analysis of military and foreign policy experts who say that Sunni extremists pose the greatest security threat to the United States since the attacks of 9/11.

“It is not in our U.S. interest to go and involve ourselves in the middle of what is a religious civil war,” she said, arguing the nation faces threats from Afghanistan, Pakistan and “many other countries.”

Kinzinger argued that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which recently routed a 30,000-man force of Iraqi soldiers in Mosul, makes the threat posed by al Qaeda pale in comparison. Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al Qaeda disavowed ISIS for being to extreme.

“If the establishment of a caliphate by an organization that makes al Qaeda look like a bunch of kitty cats is not the — is not in U.S. national interest to stop it, I don't know what is,” he said.