By Kristina Wong - 11/24/15 07:25 PM EST
Obama draws criticism for doubling down on current ISIS strategy
President Obama announced no new steps to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after meeting with French President François Hollande on Tuesday, despite calls for new action in the wake of this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
Instead, the president said the U.S. will continue to intensify its ongoing military efforts against the terrorist group, drawing criticism from national security hawks in Congress.
"Instead of doubling down on the same failed policies that allowed for ISIS’s rise, the Obama administration ought to be laying out the broad, overarching strategy needed to win," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement.
"This should include establishing safe zones in Syria, arming fighting forces — including the Kurds — already on the ground, and giving our pilots the authority and flexibility they need to carry out their missions," he added.
In the weeks before the Paris attacks that killed 130, the Pentagon had announced steps to intensify the anti-ISIS campaign — which included inflicting more damage on ISIS's oil infrastructure, increasing the number of airstrikes and supporting offensives by the Iraqi military and Syrian rebels.
After the Paris attacks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the U.S. would share intelligence with France to enhance French airstrikes against ISIS.
The Pentagon on Tuesday said the intensification is working.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook cited Iraqi Peshmerga taking back Sinjar from ISIS, cutting an important ISIS supply line between Iraq and Syria, recent advances by Syrian rebel forces around Raqqa and al-Hawl with coalition air support and more airstrikes against ISIS's oil infrastructure.
"These are what we consider to be steps forward. Again, there are going to be challenges along the way as well," Cook added.
He also said the Pentagon would continue "looking for ways to further accelerate it with the help of the French and others."
Cook said some of those things could include relaxing the rules of engagement, more raids by U.S. special operations forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and further enabling local partners on the ground.
Still, the lack of additional steps announced Tuesday falls short of what some hoped.
Amb. James Jeffrey, President Obama's former ambassador to Iraq, recommended as many as 10,000 U.S. ground troops to take on large concentrations of ISIS forces — a step the president has ruled out — and putting U.S. advisers closer to the battlefield.
"You don't escape the issue of a mess by ruling out ground troops ... unless what you're really doing in ruling out ground troops is living with ISIS and containing it," Jeffrey, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute, said at a German Marshall Fund event on Monday.
Matt Olsen, Obama's former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, added: "If we're going to be effective ... we're going to have to relax the rules of engagement to a certain degree."
Derek Chollet, a top former defense official under Obama, said he disagreed with the need for ground troops but said the administration should do more.
He said some things the administration could consider includes allowing U.S. advisors to get closer to the battlefield, relaxing U.S. military rules of engagement — risking more civilian casualties — and supplying local forces with arms.
"You could say our strategy's been like fullback up the middle a little bit ... and we need to throw a little bit more passes in the game, take some risks," he said, using a football analogy.
He added that the Paris attacks are forcing the administration to question the assumption it had when putting together the current strategy, which is, "We had time."
"The idea was that it was going to take at least three years. The question we now must face is whether we've got three years," said Chollet.