One year after Iraq deployments, lawmakers are far from war vote

One year after Iraq deployments, lawmakers are far from war vote
© Getty Images

President Obama first ordered U.S. troops back to Iraq one year ago this week in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but lawmakers appear no closer to authorizing the use of military force.

The House voted down on Wednesday a bipartisan measure that would have given Congress six months to authorize force against ISIS or else withdraw all troops authorized in the fight against the terrorist group.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Obama administration first ordered 275 troops to Iraq on June 16, 2014, to protect the U.S. Embassy and personnel in Iraq. Since then, the number has steadily grown, as the U.S. mission in Iraq has expanded to include training Iraqi forces to take on ISIS.

The number reached 3,550 last week, after the administration authorized the deployment of another 450.

That deployment prompted calls for an authorization for use of military force (AUMF), but Wednesday's House vote showed that even about one-third of Democrats did not want to force a vote by the end of the year. 

The measure — introduced by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) — failed 139-288. 

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday acknowledged that the training mission in Iraq has fallen far below expectations. 

"Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees — we simply haven’t received enough recruits," Carter told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. strategy against ISIS.

Carter said the U.S. had planned to have trained more than three times as many Iraqi trainees than it has at this point. 

"Of the 24,000 Iraqi Security Forces we had originally envisioned training at our four sites by this fall, we’ve only received enough recruits to be able to train about 7,000, in addition to about 2,000 Counterterrorism Service personnel," he said.

"We must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government," Carter said, adding that the administration's recent decision to send more forces to recruit and train Sunni fighters would help "close that gap." 

However, the lack of progress in the train and equip mission in both Iraq and Syria has prompted skepticism by lawmakers over the U.S. strategy, which relies on training local forces to take on ISIS instead of sending U.S. forces into combat. 

Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.) questioned whether it was time to give up on Baghdad, and supply arms to Sunnis and Kurdish peshmerga directly. 

"So when do we shift that strategy and start building the capabilities of other partners that will fight?" he asked. "Should we be shifting a lot of our focus to that and basically saying 'time's up'?"

Although Wednesday's vote was the closest the House has come to voting on an force resolution Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said it was not a "real AUMF debate." 

"I think we ought to have a real AUMF debate. This is not it," he said. “This is withdraw now regardless of the consequences. So regardless of one's opinion on an AUMF, whether you think they have a strategy or not, I think a lot of people will not be prepared to do that.” 

Although both Republicans and Democrats have called for a vote on an AUMF, progress has stalled over partisan disagreements on what an AUMF should look like. 

The administration sent over a draft in February, but Republicans said it was too restrictive and Democrats said it was not restrictive enough. Republicans also maintain the administration already has the authority it needs to target ISIS under the 2001 AUMF. 

Thornberry said Republicans remain wary of an AUMF for several reasons, including not believing the administration has a winning strategy. 

"So you're expecting me to vote to authorize the use of military force when they don't have a strategy to be successful? It's a hard question to answer," he told reporters after a hearing on the administration's strategy. 

He said Republicans are also concerned about bringing an AUMF for a vote and having it fail. 

"What does that say to our troops, what does that say to our allies? And that's a hard question to answer too," he said. 

At the same time, he said they recognize it's their constitutional responsibility to declare war. 

"So, that's some of the back and forth among committees and leadership right now," he said.