Senior US Senators Call for 20,000 Troops in Syria, Iraq

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Two senior senators called on Sunday for Washington to nearly triple military force levels in Iraq to 10,000 and send an equal number of troops to Syria as part of a multinational ground force, allegedly to counter Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in both countries.

Senior US Senators Call for 20,000 Troops in Syria, Iraq

Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham criticised Barack Obama’s incremental ISIL strategy, which relies on airstrikes and modest support to local ground forces in Iraq and Syria, and said the need for greater US involvement was underlined by this month’s Paris attacks.

“The only way you can destroy the caliphate is with a ground component,” said Graham, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination. “The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle.“

McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, recently proposed intervention in Syria by a European and Arab ground force backed by 10,000 US military advisers and trainers.

On Sunday, he and Graham told reporters during a visit to Baghdad that US personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Graham said special forces would also be included.

Obama last month ordered the deployment of dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria, allegedly to advise groups fighting in Syria, adding to an increasingly volatile conflict in the country.

US counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding ISIL's apocalyptic narrative that it is fighting 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,” Reuters reported.

In neighbouring Iraq, where about 3,500 US troops are advising and assisting Iraqi forces, Graham said an increased American presence would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as special forces to carry out raids, like one last month which resulted in the first US combat death in Iraq since 2011.

The senators met earlier with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who they claimed had welcomed the idea of more US troops.

“If you went up to 10,000, you’re not getting pushback from the Iraqis,” said Graham. “The difference between 3,500 and 10,000 is meaningless politically inside the country [but] militarily significant.“

However, government spokesman Saad Hadithi said Abadi had not requested US combat troops on the ground but rather asked for more arms and advisers to increase air support for Iraqi forces. Hadithi declined to speculate about the number of additional personnel under discussion.

Leading Iraqi politicians have repeatedly voiced opposition to a greater role for US forces, which withdrew in 2011 after a nearly nine-year war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

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