Inhofe Opening Statement at Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria and the Threat Posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today delivered the following opening statement at a SASC hearing entitled: "U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria and the Threat Posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)." Witnesses include Secretary of Defense Charles "Chuck" T. Hagel, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

As prepared for delivery:

After a year of White House indecision and hand-wringing, the President finally presented to the American people his strategy to defeat ISIL.  However, what was announced last week fell short in two vital areas.

First: The President again failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the threat ISIL poses to U.S. national security and to the homeland.  His claim that “America is safer” may support his political narrative – but it’s not true.  Secretary Hagel, I appreciate your honesty when you described ISIL on Aug. 21st as “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else." I agree with you.

  • ISIL has reportedly 35,000 fighters –nearly three times larger than it was in June—and is growing larger every day. It’s estimated that at least 2,000 fighters hold Western passports – and at least 100 are U.S. citizens. This coupled with their vast resources, large safe haven, and blood thirst to kill more Americans is a recipe for disaster.
  • The Administration continues to say it has "no specific evidence of plots against the homeland." I want to remind everybody that we didn't have specific evidence before 9/11 that Al-Qaeda could pull off such a horrific attack on our homeland.  Now we face an extremist organization that is larger, more brutal, better-networked and better-funded than Al-Qaeda ever was.

I believe it’s critically important we establish today how ISIL is fundamentally different from Al Qaeda (AQ): 

  • AQ hides in caves :: ISIL takes, holds and governs territory the size of Indiana;
  • AQ has small groups of specialized fighters using terrorist tactics :: ISIL is an army with tanks and artillery using conventional military, insurgent and terrorist tactics;
  • AQ is based in remote regions of the world :: ISIL sits on Europe’s doorstep;
  • AQ uses outdated propaganda on Arab-language media :: ISIL uses sophisticated media in multiple languages, including English, to spread its cause and recruit fighters;
  • AQ spent $1M to finance 9/11:: ISIL takes in more than $3 million every day. 

Second:  The President’s strategy to defeat ISIL is fundamentally detached from the reality on the ground.

Let’s be clear, ISIL commands a terrorist army comprised of tens of thousands of organized fighters who have tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and artillery.  Its conventional battlefield successes have allowed it to triple its ranks in size in only three months.

It will take an army to beat an army, but instead the President presented a limited counterterrorism strategy that he compared to his approach in Yemen and Somalia.  The differences between Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia and that of ISIL are enormous and our strategy for each should reflect that reality. Taking a “one size fits all” approach is destined for failure. 

Lt. Gen. Deptula - architect of the successful U.S. air campaign that destroyed the Taliban army on the battlefield in 2001 said: “We need to institute an aggressive air campaign in which airpower is applied like a thunderstorm, and not like a drizzle.”  Obama’s strategy forecasts a drizzle.

Furthermore, airstrikes can only be fully effective, especially in the urban areas ISIL is entrenched in, when paired with the skills of a trained air controller on the ground. But the President already ruled out boots on the ground.  There was a collective sigh of relief at ISIL Headquarters in Raqqa [Rah-Ka], Syria, when they heard him say that.

His claim of “no boots on the ground” is an insult to the men and women in Iraq today who are serving in harm’s way.  We already have boots on the ground in Irbil and in Baghdad and throughout Iraq.

We should ask the pilots dropping bombs over Iraq whether they think they are in “combat” - pilots who face the real threat of having to eject over ISIL held territory.

I’m not advocating for an army division or combat elements on the ground.  But it is foolhardy for the Obama Administration to tie its hands and so firmly rule out the possibility of air controllers and special operators on the ground to direct airstrikes and advise fighting forces.  It sends the wrong message to our troops, to the enemy, and to partners.

Furthermore, if Congress does authorize the training and equipping the Syrian moderate opposition and then pushes them into combat without advisors on the ground, that effort is likely to fail.

And we still don’t have answers to the most important and fundamental questions about what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish, such as: 

  • What does a defeated or destroyed ISIL look like?
  • What does Iraq look like at the end of these operations?
  • How do we prevent strengthening Assad when U.S. airpower weakens ISIL in Syria?

Finally, I hope we get answers today, not only to the President's strategy, but also about the current state of our military readiness.

General Dempsey, nothing significant has changed from when you warned on Feb 12th last year that our military is on a path where the force may become “so degraded and so unready” that it would be ”immoral to use force.” With six years of massive budget cuts, and another round of defense sequestration on the horizon, we are still on that path.

Despite this, the administration is still calling on our military to support its pivot to Asia, bolster our European allies against a growing Russian threat, successfully transition our mission in Afghanistan,  support the response to the ebola crisis in west Africa, and now launch military operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Unlike what the President seems to believe - you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t slash our defense budget on one hand while expecting our military to do it all on the other.  If we want our military men and women to go into harm’s way and defend this country, we need to give them the training, tools, and support they need to succeed.

Without a ready and capable military, the President’s imperfect strategy will remain what has become the trademark of his administration - tough talk that isn’t backed by meaningful action. 

I was hoping we could debate these vitally important issues with the NDAA, but we can’t even bring the NDAA to the floor for consideration. 

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