WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama faces growing skepticism in Washington over his plan to defeat Islamic State radicals in Iraq and Syria without US ground troops, with critics blasting the strategy as unrealistic and half-hearted.
Obama’s repeated vow that he will not order “boots on the ground” has infuriated Republicans in Congress, who argue that air power alone cannot roll back the IS extremists given the absence of a viable moderate rebel force in Syria and the Iraqi army’s poor track record.
Their view has been reinforced by former US commanders who question the idea of openly ruling out the use of ground troops, saying it could signal weakness to both adversaries and allies.
Retired Marine general James Mattis, the blunt-talking former head of US Central Command, told lawmakers Thursday you should not “tell your adversary in advance what you are not going to do.”
“The fewer restrictions we place on ourselves going into this, the more apt we are to see other nations give their full measure,” Mattis told lawmakers.
The Obama administration for its part has sent out mixed messages at times about how it will achieve its goal to “destroy” the IS group, and top deputies have disagreed in the past over whether to intervene in Syria.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who acts as the president’s top military adviser, suggested this week the prohibition on ground troops might not always apply as some “advisers” in Iraq may have to enter into combat to ensure air strikes hit their targets. The White House quickly sought to downplay his remarks and insisted the plan remained to defeat IS with American fighter jets in the air and US-armed local forces on the ground.