McKeon: ISIS measure that restricts ground troops ‘dead on arrival’

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is warning the Obama administration that any authorization of force against Islamic militants that restricts the use of U.S. ground troops will be “dead on arrival” in Congress.

“I will not support sending our military into harm’s way with their arms tied behind their backs,” said McKeon at a committee hearing Thursday.

{mosads}Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified at the hearing on the administration’s strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The hearing comes with President Obama sending 1,500 more troops to Iraq, doubling the U.S. presence to more than 3,000.

The new deployment has renewed debate over the administration’s strategy. The president has said that U.S. forces will not be in combat, but some military leaders and lawmakers say troops will be needed to coordinate the fight.

McKeon pointed out that former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta and Robert Gates both say the U.S. needs “boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy.” 

“Yet, the president has doubled down on his policy of ‘no boots on the ground,’ despite any advice you give him,” McKeon continued.

Hagel, in his opening statement, though stressed the administration’s position that “U.S. military personnel will not be engaged in a ground combat mission.”

Under questioning from McKeon, however, Dempsey said there are “certain operations” where U.S. advisers might be needed to accompany Iraqi forces into battle, and that “we’re certainly considering it.”

Lawmakers could take up an authorization of military force against ISIS during the lame-duck session, but so far, there is broad disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on what it would contain. 

Some lawmakers want language barring troops from ground combat. But GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have voiced opposition, arguing any bill should not restrict the president’s military options against ISIS.

Congress is also divided on when to take up a vote on authorizing force. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has called for a quick vote, while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says lawmakers should vote next year. Congress is scheduled to recess on Dec. 12.

The top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said he was in favor of passing an authorization, but was “skeptical that we can assemble a majority to do so.” 

Smith, who could not attend the hearing but submitted prepared remarks, did not call for restricting boots on the ground but cautioned against sending large numbers of U.S. troops back into combat.

“We should be clear that what we are doing is not a repeat of the Iraq War,” said Smith.

“We are not, and should not, be deploying large numbers of troops to undertake ground combat in Iraq. Doing so is unnecessary and would likely be highly counterproductive,” he added.

Tags Adam Smith authorization for use of military force Buck McKeon Chuck Hagel Iraq ISIS Martin Dempsey Syria

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