McCain rips Pentagon chief over ISIS strategy

McCain rips Pentagon chief over ISIS strategy
© Francis Rivera

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMichelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (R-Ariz.) went straight for the jugular in questioning Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a Tuesday Senate hearing on the Obama administration's strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

McCain criticized President Obama's comments at the Pentagon on Monday citing recent progress against ISIS as delusional, and he ripped Carter over the Pentagon's slowness in training Syrian rebels. 

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He said ISIS overall is gaining territory in Iraq and Syria and that there is "no compelling reason" to believe the administration's strategy is going to succeed in limiting the group. 

McCain disparaged the Pentagon for failing to provide military support to the few Syrian rebels it is training after Carter said the military would decide how to provide support once they are in the field.

"Well, that's of small comfort to those people you're recruiting now, that that decision will be made later on," McCain said pointedly. "Is that fair to these young men to say we are sending you in to fight ISIS only, and by the way, we will decide on the policy whether to defend you if you are barrel bombed?"

Carter, who revealed earlier that only 60 rebels were being trained so far, said the rebels "know that we will provide support to them," but added, "we have not told them that yet." 

McCain, who has championed support for the Syrian rebels, replied with disbelief: "You have not told them that. So you're recruiting people and not telling them that they're going to defend them because you haven't made the decision yet, and yet you want to train them quickly and send them in."

McCain, who has a reputation for skewering witnesses, also tore into Carter over the president's threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act and the administration's unwillingness to provide arms to rebels in Ukraine.

McCain recalled comments Carter had made at his confirmation hearing earlier this year in support of arming the Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists and asked him if he still supported doing that. 

As Carter stammered, McCain asked: "Are you still inclined of providing arms to Ukraine? Please, Mr. Secretary?"

"Yes, I haven't changed my views," Carter said. McCain replied, "OK. Thank you. That's a simple answer to a simple question." 

Carter tried to add, "But if I can just..." before McCain cut him off.

"No, because I've only got two minutes left," McCain growled. 

McCain was a strong supporter of Carter during his nomination process and often speaks highly of him. 

McCain even suggested last month that Carter could be retained by the next administration in 2016. The two strode into the hearing room together, smiling.  

While McCain has previously spoken ill of the other witness, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, the two largely avoided contact.