ISIS, a successor organization to al Qaeda in Iraq, has taken advantage of tremendous instability and civil war in neighboring Syria to launch a fierce terrorist offensive against the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, the northern Kurdish autonomous region, Christian and other religious minority groups, and others.
ISIS is in essence a well-armed, well-resourced army of jihadists that have murdered and raped their way across Syria and Iraq. This group and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, ultimately seek to establish a radical Islamist empire based on Sharia Law in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and southern Turkey. The goals and methods of this terrorist army have proved so radical that even al Qaeda has disavowed them.
Flush with financing from activities that include raiding banks in northern Iraq, extorting ransoms through kidnappings, and selling oil and gas on the black market, ISIS has been able to acquire a substantial arsenal of weapons. ISIS has used these weapons to wrestle control of major Iraqi cities, initiate a genocidal campaign against Yazidis and other religious minorities, and violently and publicly murder several innocent Americans, other Westerners, Jordanians, and Egyptian Coptic Christians.
In addition, the actions of ISIS have contributed to a growing humanitarian crisis in the region. The fighting in Iraq has displaced approximately 1.5 million people, adding to the existing 4 million Syrian refugees. The ceaseless flow of refugees out of Syria and Iraq has placed a significant strain on the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, as well as nations in Europe.
In response, President Obama first deployed U.S. military personnel in June 2014 to assess and advise the Iraqi security forces and bolster protection of the United States Embassy in Baghdad. In early August 2014, at the request of the Iraqi government, the President launched targeted airstrikes in northern Iraq to deliver humanitarian relief to persecuted religious minorities trapped on a mountaintop. By September 2014, President Obama had expanded U.S. military operations in the region and initiated a sporadic bombing campaign in Syria against ISIS forces and the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda-affiliated franchise. Despite these efforts, ISIS continues to make advances in the region, and on October 30, 2015, President Obama announced he would send Special Forces to Syria to assist vetted rebels in fighting ISIS.
Although I was pleased that on February 11, 2015, President Obama submitted to Congress a draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), which would authorize the continued use of military force to degrade and defeat ISIS and associated forces, I do not feel the Administration’s strategy is well-defined, sufficient, or effective.
For these reasons, I wrote to President Obama, urging him to consider a range of additional military actions that would more effectively combat ISIS.
These actions include:
- embedding U.S. military advisors at lower levels in the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and Sunni tribal forces
- utilizing U.S. troops on the ground as Forward Air Controllers to make our airstrikes more lethal and precise
- deploying additional close air support platforms, and
- establishing safe zones to protect Syrian refugees and others fleeing ISIS.
Moreover, ISIS is not merely a localized threat that only endangers countries in the Middle East.
The ISIS attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, the ISIS bombing of a Russian passenger plane on October 31, 2015, and the ISIS-inspired terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015, prove the terrorist group’s growing operational reach and capacity to carry out lethal attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.
I have implored President Obama to formulate a clear, robust plan of action with achievable objectives to destroy ISIS and deny them safe haven before any more innocent lives are lost.