Sen. Reed: Boost military aid to Iraqis to beat ISIS

A senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee urged the Obama administration to boost training and equipment for Iraqi forces, saying only they can ultimately defeat terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"We have to allow them, by equipment, some training, some tactical advice, the capability to go after ISIS or ISIL and not only just keep them in a box but gradually reclaim the country of Iraq for the Iraqi people," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said Tuesday on MSNBC. 

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President Obama launched airstrikes against the group and ordered humanitarian airdrops to aid refugees stranded in nearby Mount Sinjar after ISIS threatened to capture the Kurdish city of Erbil in the north.

Reed said Iraqi forces would have to take the lead in defeating the al Qaeda offshoot that controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

"That is best done ... by effective action by Iraqi forces,” he said. “There are opportunities or occasions where we might be able to assist them but those are very limited."

The president has yet to decide on any other military actions the U.S. may take.

Obama has urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down and allow his successor to form a more inclusive government. A political compromise in Baghdad could pave the way for further military assistance, such as U.S. advisers embedded with Iraqi units. 

Reed predicted the political transition would be "rocky," with al-Maliki claiming he will contest the Iraqi president’s decision to tap Deputy Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to be the next head of state.

"It's not going to be smooth; it's going to be a rocky transition. But the momentum for his replacement is building and I think that momentum will continue," he said.

Reed is one of 23 senators who opposed the 2003 Iraq War, and he is running for reelection in Rhode Island.

If he wins, and if Democrats hold the Senate, he will likely become the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. 

ISIS is one of the many groups fighting against President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria. Some lawmakers called for Obama to do more to aid non-radical Syrian groups in that country’s civil war in hopes of countering both Assad and ISIS.

Reed though agreed with Obama's views, expressed in a recent New York Times interview, that equipping the Syrian opposition would not have made a huge difference in preventing the rise of ISIS.

"One of the issues in Syria was finding reliable forces in which you could provide weapons and training, equipment. It's still a very difficult challenge to find those reliable forces in Syria," Reed said. 

"Indeed, we just saw in Iraq where an army that we had been training for many, many years collapsed in front of ISIS, and ISIS seized the equipment," he said.

"So I don't think it's as clear-cut in terms of having simply put equipment in early would've made a difference."