Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.) said on Sunday that the Obama administration must do more in the Middle East to combat the Islamic militants who are gaining ground in Iraq, even amid U.S.-led airstrikes in the country.


He said the United States should be sending targeted special forces troops and forward air controllers to supplement those strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), stopping short of advocating for putting American combat battalions there.

“There has to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what we're doing because we are not — we are not ‘degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS,’ ” McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union,” borrowing a phrase President Obama used when the president outlined the plan of attack against the group.

“They're winning and we're not,” McCain said of ISIS.

He also moved to provide arms to both Kurdish fighters known as the Peshmerga, who McCain says are using “old weapons that are Russian vintage against ISIS” as well as the Free Syrian Army, a group of moderate rebels that is battling intensifying attacks from Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“You have to go after ISIS and Bashar al Assad at the same time or you will not succeed,” McCain said.

Since ISIS has also been at odds with Assad, the airstrikes to weaken the terror group have emboldened the Syrian leader, the rebel group says.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon plans to send a team to Turkey next week to figure out how to train and equip an effective rebel force in Syria.

A $500 million program outlined by the White House to train and arm 5,000 Free Syrian Army fighters has not yet begun.

McCain on Sunday said that the United States “can't afford to let this continue.”

“The stronger ISIS gets, the greater the threat to the United States of America. That's what we have to understand and that's why tough decisions have to be made and not gradually,” he said. “We have to completely revamp our strategy, which clearly is not succeeding.”