The airstrikes ordered by President Barack Obama have begun to degrade the Islamic State (ISIS), but will not be capable of eradicating the militant group unless Syrian President Bashar Assad is overthrown, say Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, the two Republicans say that the current strategy of dealing with “ISIS first” may unintentionally bolster the Assad regime which the United States has long said must come to an end.
“Mr. Assad all but created Islamic State through his slaughter of nearly 200,000 Syrians, and he has knowingly allowed the group to grow and operate with impunity inside the country when it suits his purposes. Until we confront this reality, we can continue to degrade Islamic State in Syria, but Mr. Assad’s barbarism will continue to empower it,” they wrote.
McCain and Graham also say that it’s implausible to arm and train 5,000 Syrians to fight against ISIS while at the same time neglecting to protect them from Assad’s airstrikes. It is also unrealistic to expect Syrian moderate groups to take advantage of American airstrikes when the U.S. is not coordinating its operations with them.
“Our efforts to buildup a viable Free Syrian Army to liberate Syria from the evils of the Islamic State and Mr. Assad will surely fail if the Syrian ruler is not dealt with. To expect Mr. Assad to sit on the sidelines as the Free Syrian Army gains capacity would be a colossal mistake and doom efforts to stop Syria from sinking further into the abyss,” they said.
Meanwhile, they say, it is a mistake for Obama to refuse to integrate military advisers on the ground to assist local forces. The strategy was key to the success America had in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in instances when we excluded them, we failed in our combat objectives.
In addition, U.S. forces on the ground are essential to making sure the airstrikes are effective. It requires direction from the ground to identify targets, direct air power effectively, and avoid collateral damage, challenges that cannot be met solely from the air, they said.
The two contend that there must also be a larger role for U.S. military advisers by establishing safe zones in Syria, which would also require notifying Assad that his forces will be destroyed if they operate in those regions.
“Key regional partners realize that we must confront Mr. Assad as well as Islamic State, and they are willing to join America in doing so,” they said.
“The reality is that defeating Islamic State also requires defeating Bashar Assad. Avoiding this reality, as Mr. Obama still tries to do, will only postpone the problem at growing risk to Syrian lives and American security. And when Syria deteriorates further, as it surely will, the U.S. will be compelled to respond once again, but our options will be fewer, worse and costlier,” they concluded.
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