By Debbie Gregory.
Republicans Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called for an increase in military force in Iraq and Syria.
They want to see 10,000 troops in each country as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State (IS).
They are both critical of the president’s strategy in fighting IS, which relies on air strikes and modest support to local ground forces, and expressed that U.S. personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Both Russia and Iran have increased their military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against rebels in Syria’s four-and-a-half year civil war.
Graham said that if the U.S. leads a regional force to fight IS in Syria and removes Assad from power, it will find support from Arab leaders.
“We were talking to the now-King of Saudi Arabia (Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud) before he became king and he told John McCain, who he admires greatly, ‘You can have our army, you just gotta deal with Assad.’ The emir of Qatar said ‘I’ll pay for the operation,’ Graham said. “But they’re not going to just fight ISIL and let Damascus fall into the hands of the Iranians. Assad has to go.”
U.S. counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding Islamic State’s apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the West and its authoritarian Arab allies.
McCain said it would be possible but not easy to rally Arab allies to contribute to the proposed ground force in Syria.
“The question… is being asked all over the capitals of the West right now,” he said. “(Arab) countries for a long time have not seen what’s happening as a direct threat to them. Now I believe that they do.”
Graham said an increased American presence in Iraq would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as Special Forces.
Iraqi politicians have voiced opposition to an increase in U.S. forces.