The leader of a key U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS said in an interview that aired on Sunday that his people have seen little evidence of a strong commitment to defeat the terror group, and suggested that it is unclear whether the United States, and the Obama administration in particular, has a real plan to eliminate the terror group.
U.S. leaders frequently cite the bravery and military prowess of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters who have been battling ISIS in northern Iraq. But in an interview with NBC’s Richard Engel on Meet the Press, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani seemed to suggest that those words haven’t been backed up with deeds.
The U.S. has mounted air strikes that helped prevent further ISIS advances, and has supplied the Kurds and Iraqis with weapons, but in terms of actually rolling back the radical group, much less has been done.
“President Obama has said there’s a strategy in place to degrade and defeat ISIS,” said Engel. “Do you believe him?”
“Well, he’s the President of the United States,” Barzani began diplomatically. “When he – “
“But do you believe there is a strategy in place that will do that?” Engel interrupted.
“I hope there is,” Barzani said slowly, “but we need that strategy to be translated into action.”
Engle asked whether the Kurds had seen any sign of such a plan.
“So far we have not seen any serious action that can quickly defeat ISIS,” said Barzani.
Can it work over the long term?
“It can, it can. But once again, I mean we are sacrificing more lives and putting many innocent lives at risk by allowing ISIS to survive for a longer period.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who also appeared on the program, said, “I understand [Prime Minister] Barzani’s impatience. I fully understand it. The peshmerga have been particularly brave and courageous. We have supplied them with enormous amount of ammunition, weapons and other things. And others are supplying them, our allies.”
However, he defended the administration’s decision to move deliberately when it comes to pushing back on the territorial gains ISIS has made.
“We have said consistently that this is going to take a certain amount of time,” Kerry said. “Now why? Is that because we want it to take a certain amount of time? No. The fact is that the Iraqi army itself needs to be retrained and stood up. There have to be ground troops involved in order to win this victory…they are going to be Iraqi and that’s the way the Iraqis want it.”
Kerry said the Iraqi army is not yet ready to confront ISIS and warned that it would be “a great mistake” to throw them into the fight before they are prepared.
Both Republicans and Democrats are challenging the administration over its activities in the Middle East. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) on Sunday criticized the Obama administration for pursuing only a “policy of containment.”
In a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Sunday, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) agreed that the administration should avoid sending U.S. troops to the region in significant numbers, despite the fact that one prominent Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has called for sending up to 10,000 U.S. soldiers.
If nothing else, one enemy of ISIS rededicated itself to the group’s destruction with more determination this week. After the terror group released a video of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive, an infuriated King Abdullah stepped up air strikes dramatically.
U.S. Special Envoy Gen. John Allen, the retired Marine Corps General who acts as U.S. liaison to the other nations battling ISIS said that the killing of the Jordanian pilot had backfired badly on ISIS, adding that it “galvanized and unified the coalition.”
“We’re not going to divulge our plans, but it is not just about increased air campaign or air sorties. It is everything we have. This is our fight,” said Nasser Judeh, the Jordanian foreign minister. “And if there was any shred of doubt that these people are evil I think this horrific video was evidence enough.”
However, even the Jordanians are hesitant about introducing ground troops into the conflict.
“At this point, coalition members are not speaking about boots on the ground,” said government spokesman Mohammed Al-Momani. “Having said that, this is a war. His Majesty described it at one point as a third world war. If circumstances change we will discuss it at that point. At this point in time no one is talking about boots on the ground.”
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