Stars and Stripes: Architects of the 2006 surge in Iraq told the Senate Thursday that the current U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally flawed” and a major increase in troops and operations is needed to halt the growing momentum of the Islamic State.
In the wake of the fall of Ramadi, the United States should deploy up to 20,000 troops for nightly special operations raids and expanded assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground, conservative defense experts who once counseled former President George W. Bush told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The testimony is part of a Republican push in the Senate for a more robust strategy following last weekend’s loss of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province and one of the bloodiest battlefields for U.S. troops in the 2003-2011 war.
The stunning defeat in Ramadi has raised widespread doubts over the overall U.S. strategy against the Islamic State. The militants continued to gain ground this week, seizing the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra despite nine months of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
“The conceptual plan is fundamentally flawed. We are not only failing, we are in fact losing this war,” said former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane. “Moreover, I can say with certainty this strategy will not defeat ISIS,” one of several acronyms for the extremist group
Keane said the U.S. should dramatically ramp up special operations raids similar to the recent mission that killed the Islamic State’s financier in Syria last week. The military could run eight to 10 operations each night, mirroring the tempo of previous surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Frederick Kagan, a director at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the Islamic State has proven itself on the battlefield with professional leadership, well-executed operations and a complex strategy. Regaining the momentum will now require 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, he said. “I think anything less than that is simply not serious,” he said.
The troops could guide Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, direct airstrikes and work with Sunni tribal groups in Anbar to bring them more effectively into the fight, according to the testimony.
A surge would focus on assistance and not involve American ground fighting as in the earlier war, Kagan said. “We are not anticipating putting American brigades and having them clear house by house as we have previously done,” he said.
In 2006, Keane and Kagan both advised Bush to drastically increase troops in Iraq when it became clear the U.S. strategy was failing to curb a bloody insurgency, much of it centered in Anbar.
At the time military brass advised against the increase and maintained the strategy was working. But Bush replaced his defense secretary and his Iraq commander, and sent 30,000 additional troops in a controversial move that eventually quelled violence.
Now, the Obama administration appears to be facing its own crisis in a new Iraq war. It entered Iraq in August following an Islamic State offensive last summer that rolled across nearly a third of the country. The administration has relied on airstrikes and training of local forces, which have so far failed to break the back of the Islamic State.
For weeks, officials had downplayed the strategic importance of Ramadi. Instead they maintained the Islamic State was on the defensive after the government regained territory north of Baghdad, including Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
But the administration acknowledged on Wednesday that the U.S-backed Iraq forces were stunned by the defeat over the weekend.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sits on the committee, took to the chamber floor on Wednesday to call for a new surge similar to the one ordered by Bush.