Here, Seth Cropsey writes that military commanders doubt the U.S. can successfully defeat ISIS any other way.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 16 that if necessary he would recommend that the president order U.S. military advisers to “accompany Iraq troops on attacks” against Islamic State, also known as ISIS. A day later Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that “you’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting [ISIS] out.” Gen. Odierno did not specify that the ground forces needed to be American, but he said an air campaign alone cannot defeat the jihadists occupying large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Retired senior officers speak with greater candor. James Mattis, the retired Marine general and former commander of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 18 that it would be a mistake to rule out U.S. ground forces against ISIS. A couple of days earlier, retired Army Gen. Dan McNeill, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan, said in a TV interview that ground troops will be needed to defeat ISIS. If the jihadists’ threat “is as serious as some people say,” the general asked, “then why aren’t we applying all elements of American power to it?”
Then there is Gen. Lloyd Austin, who leads Central Command and is thus the senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. Gen. Dempsey told Congress in his Sept. 16 testimony that Gen. Austin recommended committing U.S. special-operations forces to the fight against ISIS. Special-operations forces could reconnoiter and identify targets, assist aircraft that deliver ordnance on targets, kill enemy commanders and, most important, by their very presence stiffen the spine of coalition partners who might agree to send ground forces. President Obama rejected this recommendation.
It is clear that these active and retired senior officers are as doubtful about the U.S.’s ability to achieve its war aims from the air as they are convinced that ground forces—and if necessary, U.S. ground forces—will be needed either to spearhead or assume major responsibility for defeating ISIS.
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