Left wary of Obama’s ISIS escalation

Left wary of Obama’s ISIS escalation
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President Obama is caught between the military and the left as he seeks to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While military officials appear to be pushing for a more robust campaign against ISIS, the incremental steps Obama has taken so far are stretching the limits of his promise that there would be no boots on the ground.

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Obama this week announced the deployment of a special operations force that will conduct raids against terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon on Wednesday said the new “expeditionary targeting force,” which will number roughly 200, would be engaged in combat. 

“Absolutely, I mean, a raid is a combat operation,” said Army Col. Steven Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, at a briefing Wednesday. 

Warren said the new deployment would raise the ceiling on total U.S. troops in Iraq by about 100, to 3,650, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has not ruled out sending more. 

The latest deployment is alarming liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, with many fearing the U.S. is creeping toward another full-scale war in the Middle East. 

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a vice chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it’s unacceptable that special operations forces are being sent to fight ISIS without Congress having passed an authorization for use of military force (AUMF). 

“The deployment of additional special operations forces to Iraq should be a wake-up call to Congress — it’s past time to hold a serious debate on the costs and consequences of yet another war in the Middle East,” she said in a written statement.

The White House says Obama is keeping his pledge to not have boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria and has denied any “mission creep” in the campaign against ISIS. 

“This is consistent with what we have been doing in Iraq and Syria in the past,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. “It is also an intensification that only involves ... 200 U.S. military personnel. 

“That certainly stands in contrast to the more than 100,000 U.S. troops that were on the ground in Iraq and were sent there by the previous administration,” he added. 

The U.S. military campaign against ISIS has grown significantly since the initial rollout last summer.

On June 16, 2014, Obama authorized 275 troops to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Later that week, he authorized the deployment of up to 300 more to train and advise Iraqi forces. 

“We always have to guard against mission creep,” the president said at the time. “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.” 

Two months later, the president authorized airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel in Erbil and to save Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar. A month later, he approved airstrikes in Syria. 

Now there are about 3,500 American troops in Iraq, while Obama last month announced he would be sending about 50 U.S. troops to Syria. 

While those forces are providing protection for U.S. personnel, and training and advising Iraqi and local Syrian forces, they are often in harm’s way.

U.S. forces in October conducted a ground raid in northern Iraq to rescue ISIS hostages. A U.S. Delta Force soldier was killed in that raid.  

The cost of the war has grown steadily as well, from about an average of $8 million per day, to now an average of $11 million per day, according to a Dec. 2 Pentagon estimate. The total cost of the campaign as of Nov. 15 is $5.2 billion. 

U.S. special operators will now be ready “on a standing basis” to conduct raids in Iraq and Syria, Carter said Tuesday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. 

“It puts everybody on notice in Syria, that you don’t know at night who is going to be coming in the window,” Carter said. 

The military has wanted to escalate the campaign against ISIS for months, defense officials say. 

The concept for the new targeting force was developed months ago within the military, in anticipation of the White House asking for more options in the war against ISIS, a defense official said. 

The trigger for Obama endorsing the new force appears to have been the Paris terrorist attacks, which ISIS has claimed responsibility for.

“I think that the attacks in Paris really changed the threat calculation of many in the left, not just necessarily the administration,” said Nora Bensahel, a distinguished scholar in residence at the School of International Service at American University.

Public reluctance about using ground troops in Iraq and Syria has also receded significantly.

In the days after the Paris attacks, a Nov. 20 Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 60 percent of Americans supported using ground forces against ISIS — double the support in summer 2014. 

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse passes annual intelligence bill Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff MORE (Calif.), top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he is “deeply worried” about mission creep, but believe more must be done to fight ISIS before they attack the U.S. 

“The addition of another small number of special operators is probably not enough to maintain that kind of tempo to change the dynamic on the ground very much,” Schiff said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” 

“Time is not on our side here. I think that was the message Paris really hammered home. We can’t allow this plague to maintain this large presence in Iraq and Syria,” he added. “So we’ll have to take, I think, much stronger, more dramatic action to go after this group.” 

Rep. Jim McDermottJames (Jim) Adelbert McDermottBottom Line Promoting the voice of Korean Americans Lobbying World MORE (D-Wash.), a member of the House Progressive Caucus, acknowledged Obama is in a “horrible” situation with no easy answers.

“These soldiers, I don’t want them over there,” McDermott said an interview with The Hill. “It’s a dangerous place to be for them. But I don’t know where the president could go that would make sense.

“Where is the line where … he’s not going to get drawn into something much greater?” he asked. 

Jordan Fabian contributed.