US Military Leaders to Discuss IS Strategy

U.S. President Barack Obama’s top military officials go before lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the strategy for fighting the Islamic State group, a day after Obama said that effort would be long, hard-fought and require more than American military might to win.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

They appeared at a similar hearing of the House Armed Services Committee last month where Carter said Iraq had not brought in enough military recruits to train against the militants.

Obama met with Carter and top military commanders and intelligence officials Monday at the Pentagon where he pledged to defeat the Islamic State group without dragging America into another ground war.

‘Long-term campaign’

“This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign,” the president said. «It will take time to root them out, and doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground with training and air support from our coalition.”

“There will be periods of progress, but there will also be some setbacks,” added Obama, who once conceded the U.S. lacks a «complete strategy» to battle the militants.

Monday’s meeting followed a weekend of intensified airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition against the militants, who have taken control of large swaths of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria.

The coalition conducted 38 strikes, with nearly half directed around the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.

Obama spoke of a continued multipronged campaign in which coalition forces attack Islamic State militants from the skies while taking steps to root out the group’s financing and strengthening local forces for ground operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

He noted the militant group’s success in reaching out to potential recruits in faraway lands, including the United States, and said defeating the Islamic State group will require more than military might.

“Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They are defeated with better ideas,” Obama said. “This larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle. It is ultimately not going to be won or lost by the United States alone. It will be decided by the countries and the communities that terrorists like ISIL [Islamic State] target.”

Senate critic

One of Obama’s fiercest critics in Congress, Senator John McCain, called the administration’s campaign against Islamic State militants one of «self-delusion.»

McCain said, «There is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.»

Earlier, Defense Secretary Carter met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called the Islamic State group a «terrorist army» rather than a «terrorist group.»

Le Drian vowed French forces would continue to work with the coalition to «block» Islamic State militants from taking over Iraq. France does not participate in airstrikes in Syria but has used its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to launch airstrikes into Iraq for months.

Coalition strikes began in Iraq last August and in Syria a month later. Warplanes have conducted more than 5,000 combined airstrikes, according to White House data, in missions that officials say have helped Iraqi troops and fighters in Syria reclaim some territory from the militants.

«We believe that we have an impact on [Islamic State],» Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren recently told reporters in Washington. Despite the loss of a quarter of the land the group seized in Syria and Iraq, however, “they remain a potent force,» he added.

But progress has been limited, with the Iraqi military still unable to achieve widespread success on the ground in reclaiming major northern and western cities.

Kurdish fighters

It has been aided by Iranian-backed militias and Kurdish fighters in operations such as the ongoing effort to take back Anbar province.

So far, President Obama has resisted calls to send U.S. ground troops back to Iraq, instead deploying advisers and trainers to try to boost the Iraqi troops.

The United States also has struggled to find moderate Syrian rebels to train. The Associated Press reports fewer than 100 rebels have been trained to date, a fraction of the 5,400 intended fighters.

Carter has said the small number is due to a difficult vetting process partnered with the requirement that those trained must be willing, at least initially, to solely fight Islamic State forces rather than the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the U.S. won’t take any shortcuts on vetting because of the risk that would pose not only to coalition forces, but also to the objectives the coalition is trying to achieve.