McDonough: ‘Important’ for Congress to authorize arming moderate rebels

Greg Nash

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday said it’s important for Congress to authorize a program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because it would ensure no U.S. combat troops would be needed.

{mosads}“Everybody believes there has to be someone on the ground, some ground force, taking the fight to [ISIS]. So, if it’s not the Syrian opposition, trained and equipped by the United States, authorized by Congress and the president, if Congress takes the step this week, then it’ll have to be U.S. troops,” McDonough said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The president made a decision on that. We’re not going to do that.”

“The ground forces in Syria will be Syrian opposition ground forces. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to enact that effort this week,” he added.

McDonough said Congress has made “very good progress” to make sure lawmakers pass that authorization. The House is now debating whether to attach that authorization to a short-term spending bill or hold a separate vote.

Some Republicans and Democrats have voiced support to arm the moderate opposition, while other lawmakers are skeptical the groups could be properly vetted or would be powerful enough to fight.

Iraqi security forces, even after the U.S. trained them, split apart and were not strong enough to push back ISIS, some lawmakers have argued.

The forces split because of sectarian strife, McDonough explained on ABC’s “This Week,” and he said that’s why the U.S. stressed the need for a new Iraqi leader. Haider al-Abadi was sworn in as Iraq’s new prime minister last week.

“This is not going to be like the Iraq war. We’re not talking about tens of thousands of troops on the ground,” he said, adding that U.S. personnel on the ground in Iraq do not serve in combat roles, but in a training capacity.

Asked if U.S. troops would ever be on the ground in Syria, McDonough didn’t explicitly say no, but he explained the U.S. will use airpower, intelligence and enhanced training and equipping of local forces on the ground.

He declined on “This Week” to specify whether there would be a limit to the number of U.S. military personnel sent to Iraq. About 1,600 troops have already been deployed.

“We will be very candid with the American people, as the president has been. We will work very closely and consult with Congress on this effort,” he said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McDonough said President Obama will sit down with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who has been tapped to coordinate the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, to discuss the mission going forward.

On Fox, McDonough said, “This fight is every bit as much theirs as it is ours.”

–Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:35 p.m.

Tags Denis McDonough Free Syrian Army Iraq ISIS Sunday shows Syria
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