House lawmakers emerged from a briefing on the administration’s anti-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strategy generally confident in the military aspect of the plan, but some worried the plan still lacks an endgame for the Syrian civil war.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, meanwhile, expressed confidence in ISIS's defeat and in Congress’s support for the strategy.
“We’re winning; they’re losing,” Mattis told reporters after the briefing. “I have no doubt we have the support of Congress. That was loud and clear.”
Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefed House lawmakers hours after President Trump visited the Pentagon and a day after the trio briefed the Senate on the same topic.
Mattis declined to discuss his meeting with Trump or get into specifics of the House briefing, saying he owes “a degree of confidentiality” to the closed discussions.
Lawmakers who spoke with reporters likewise declined to discuss specifics, citing its classified nature.
Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Arizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems MORE (R-Ariz.), who sits on the House Armed Service Committee, called the briefing “substantive and very comprehensive.”
“This was one of the best briefings that I’ve seen, and I see a lot of them,” he told reporters upon leaving. "From my perspective, we’ve had more progress in the battle against ISIS in the last eight months than we’ve had in the last eight years. It’s just been stark, the difference."
Democrats, though, emerged from the briefing saying they did not hear much difference in strategy from the Obama administration.
“What I was struck by more than anything else was how very similar all this strategy is to prior administration,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt Press: Steve Bannon behind bars in Capitol basement? Paris Hilton to visit Capitol Hill to advocate for bill on children's treatment centers MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. “There are certainly differences in how much delegation of authority has gone to the military, and the military battle has progressed as it would have under the leadership of the prior administration, but there are far more similarities than dissimilarities.”
While progress has been made on the battlefield against ISIS, Schiff said, political progress in Iraq has been slow, and Syria is “horribly complicated.”
“I think it’s still very difficult to see the endgame” in Syria, he said. “I don’t think it’s for lack of effort on the part of the administration. I think it’s a difficult problem to solve. But I do think there are still pieces of the puzzle that need to be filled in terms of overall strategy politically more than militarily.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, though, said he thinks the administration has abandoned the goal of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
He cited reports that Trump has ended a CIA program to train and equip rebels fighting Assad. Sherman said he asked about the issue during the briefing, and while he would not confirm the reports, he said he was not disputing them.
ISIS will be driven out of its stronghold of Raqqa as it was from its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, he said, but the issue is governance afterward.
“It seems pretty clear that Syria will be run by Assad, his allies in Iran and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Sherman said, “and we have accepted this.”
- Ellen Mitchell contributed.