Several Democrats broke with their president to criticize a move that puts American boots on the ground
Republicans welcomed the uptick in the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign, but questioned if it would achieve its objectives
Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill took issue with President Barack Obama’s decision Friday to deploy U.S. troops to Syria – for different reasons.
Several Democrats broke with their president to criticize a move that puts American boots on the ground and cautioned against mission creep.
Some also called on their own chambers to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against ISIS, something the administration sought earlier in the year but which has stalled in Congress.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, called Obama’s new anti-ISIS plan too little, too late and questioned its utility.
And both parties called for the administration to sketch out a more detailed strategy for taking on ISIS, also called ISIL.
“This commitment of U.S. forces must come with a coherent strategy to defeat ISIL. Otherwise, we are likely to see the same results in the region,” newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said in a statement Friday. “I look forward to reviewing the details of this announcement.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and once Obama’s handpicked chairman of the Democratic National Committee, urged the administration “to detail to the America people a comprehensive strategy to bring both the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which are metastasizing around the globe, to a peaceful end.”
The White House announced Friday that “less than 50” Special Operations troops would be deployed to Syria to help train and assist Kurdish and Arab forces in northern Syria. The move to put boots on the ground – something Obama long said he opposed – was accompanied by increased air power and other support for groups fighting ISIS.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stressed the small number of troops in a statement Friday, saying they are “intended to degrade ISIS.”
But Pelosi, a strong critic of the war in Iraq and against putting combat troops in Syria, also said it was “imperative that the international community work together to advance a political settlement in Syria and to defeat ISIS” and demanded more congressional briefings on the situation.
Democrat Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico warned about the dangers of the move and suggested the risks to American service members weren’t worth it.
“The ‘fog of war’ in this situation appears too great and the risks significantly outweigh the potential benefits,” he said, particularly pointing to the fact that Russia, like the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, is also conducting airstrikes in Syria.
“Imagine the scenario in which American forces are deployed alongside Syrian opposition forces and come into combat with ISIL,” he said in a statement. “The margin for error diminishes considerably, and the consequences of either accidental or intentional fire on our ground forces – or Russian and Syrian forces – expand greatly.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the risks that came with the deployment, but said that the new measures will pay off.
“This is a dangerous place on the globe and they are at risk, and there’s no denying that,” he told reporters at a press briefing. But he also said that similar use of Special Operations forces “has been effective,” which was why the tactic was being deployed in Syria.
Yet California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned against an expansive role for American troops there.
“I continue to believe that we must not commit ground combat forces to the fight in Syria or Iraq,” he said. And he called for the administration to work with Congress on an authorization for the use of military force for the battle against ISIS, something Kaine has called for as well.
Earnest maintained Friday that that the U.S. forces heading to Syria “do not have a combat mission,” though many military experts have said the train and advise operation is exactly that.
Republicans, for their part, welcomed the increase in the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign, but questioned if it would achieve its objectives.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, said that “a more serious effort against ISIS in Syria is long overdue,” but added, “these steps may prove to be too little too late.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arizona Republican and Iraq War veteran, said that Obama has the right aim but needs to commit more to it.
“Part of strategy is matching means to your goals,” Cotton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “The president has the right goal, and he has since last year when he finally realized the Islamic State is not the JV team. But he’s consistently not given the means needed to achieve the goal of destroying the Islamic State.”
He also knocked Earnest for not being clearer on the Special Ops’ combat role, referring to the death just last week of Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler while participating in a raid to free ISIS hostages.
“I have to say, I’m mystified. It sounds like he’s describing something out of a George Orwell novel,” Cotton said. “We clearly have troops on the ground who are fighting in close quarters with our enemy, the Islamic State.”