In June 2014, militants belonging to the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant), known as ISIS or ISIL, attacked and captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The group’s stated goal is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, across a stretch of territory from Iraq to Syria and beyond. Taking advantage of widespread sectarian discontent in Iraq, ISIL’s violence has spread along sectarian lines from its base of support in Syria. ISIL’s brutality has also provoked fighting over control of cities in the oil-rich northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk.
As U.S. efforts in Iraq ramped back up following the ISIL invasion, the President unveiled a strategy designed to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. I support the effort to defeat this terrorist organization, which poses a threat to U.S. interests.
The U.S. dispatched 275 military personnel in mid-June 2014 to provide embassy security. In early August, U.S. C-17s, C-130s, and F/A-18 aircraft participated in humanitarian assistance operation in Northern Iraq to provide food and water to refugees, mostly ethnic Yazidis.
Also in August, the United States began air strikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIL, with the help of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. By January 2015, about 3,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. They are serving mainly as advisors and trainers to Iraqi forces.
On September 18, the Senate passed with my support H.J.Res.124, Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015. As part of that resolution, the Senate authorized the Department of Defense to train and equip appropriately-vetted moderates in the Syrian opposition to fight ISIL. Congress has also strengthened oversight by requiring detailed progress reports and plans on the vetting and training process.
I am extremely concerned by recent gains made by ISIL, including the seizure of the cities of Ramadi in Iraq, and Palmyra in Syria. The President and our military commanders have said that this would not be an easy fight. We have to continue to strike at ISIL’s leadership, as our special forces recently did against a senior ISIL commander in Syria.
At the same time, I believe it is critical for our allies in the region to be more engaged in efforts against ISIL.
Iraq in particular needs to demonstrate it is willing to defend its cities. We cannot do it for them.
Over the longer-term, I am concerned about the efforts by ISIL to recruit new fighters. More than 20,000 foreign fighters including many from western countries and even the United States have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside ISIL. They has become very adept at using slick videos and social media. We need to do more to combat their recruiting efforts.
As we continue to strike at ISIL and engage with our international partners on this effort, Congress has a vital role to play in defining the parameters of this fight.
We are continuing to hear testimony from our national security leadership to identify the right balance between Presidential authorities and Congressional authorization.
I will carefully review the recent Authorization for the Use of Military Force proposal from Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to determine if it strikes such a balance.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I will continue to closely follow developments in Iraq and Syria.