McCain: Fall of Ramadi 'terribly significant'

The fall of the critically important Iraqi city Ramadi to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a "terribly significant" event that shows the need for more U.S. forces on the ground, Sen. John McCainJohn McCainWeek ahead: Pentagon funding in the balance as deadline looms Kasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Five fights for Trump’s first year MORE (R-Ariz.) said Monday. 

"I think it's, unfortunately, terribly significant, capital of Anbar Province, the deaths of hundreds, the displacement of thousands and thousands," he said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"Not the 82nd Airborne, but we'll have to have more people on the ground and this is really serious, the fall of Ramadi," he said.

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The Pentagon said Sunday that ISIS “now has the advantage” in Ramadi, but downplayed the development and said it would help Iraqi forces take the city back.

"Ramadi has been contested since last summer and ISIL now has the advantage. That just means the coalition will have to support Iraqi forces to take it back later," Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith told Reuters.

The defeat marks a blow to the Iraqi government and is a setback for the Obama administraiton, which has been training Iraqi forces to take back ground from the terrorist group. 

McCain acknowledged a successful U.S. special forces operation in Syria over the weekend that resulted in the killing of a top ISIS official and capture of his wife, as well as a trove of intelligence, but said raids were "almost peripheral if you're going to lose the capital of the province."

"You have to give them the utmost praise. But to somehow assume that that will turn the tide here against ISIS, I think is just not realistic," McCain said.

The U.S. is training 12 brigades of Iraqi government forces — including three Kurdish peshmerga brigades. However, Iraqi forces have needed the help of Shia militia fighters, the peshmerga, or U.S. airpower to help beat back ISIS in different parts of the country.

Part of the problem is that Anbar is predominantly Sunni, and Shia militia fighters — many of which are Iranian-backed and considered more effective — were not participating in Ramadi's defense.

"Finally, the prime minister Abadi has said they are going to have to send Shia militia. You know, the Shia militia and Sunni and Anbar Province are absolutely enemies and Shia militia is now controlled by the Iranians," McCain said.

McCain said fault lay with former Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki, for firing competent military leaders. But he also blamed President Obama's administration for withdrawing all U.S. forces in Iraq in 2011. 

"I hate to be repetitious, but the fact is that thanks to the surge, we had it under control and this is another consequence of the failure of this administration and this president to leave a residual force behind," he said.

McCain said NATO ally Turkey has been reluctant to send forces or assist in the fight against ISIS since the U.S. has so far been unwilling to target the Syrian regime under Bashar Assad, who it views as a greater threat than ISIS.

"Unless we are willing to allow these people —‚ for example, people trained to go in and take down Bashar Assad, then they won't cooperate," he said.

If the U.S. could gain Turkey's cooperation, it could use its air base north of Syria and save U.S. aircraft almost five hours of flying, he said.

"Unfortunately, our focus seems to be only on ISIS while we see Iran [in] four countries, Yemen Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, basically in control," he said.