Senator blasts administration's fight against Islamic State

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2016 5:06 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration's fight against the Islamic State is at risk of becoming a "grinding failure for our nation," an influential Republican senator said Tuesday in a broadside that illustrated the mounting frustrations in Congress with the U.S. strategy to defeat the extremist group.

In a brief but pointed letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said U.S. military commanders are being hamstrung by an overly cautious Obama administration.

McCain drew a parallel between the campaign against the Islamic State and the war in Vietnam, a conflict he served in as a Navy pilot.

"As a young military officer, I bore witness to the failed policy of gradual escalation that ultimately led to our nation's defeat in the Vietnam War," he wrote. "I fear this administration's grudging incrementalism in the war against the Islamic State risks another slow, grinding failure for our nation."

Carter has described the U.S. as making considerable strides against the Islamic State. He told reporters at the Pentagon last month that the U.S. progress in eliminating members of the group's "cabinet" was hampering its ability to conduct and inspire attacks against the West.

President Barack Obama also has claimed headway in the fighting. The U.S. and its coalition partners have rolled back the Islamic State group's control of territory, he has said, and a new but fragile government has been formed in Libya.

But McCain said he has talked to military commanders both on the ground and at the Pentagon. Those conversations "have led me to the disturbing, yet unavoidable conclusion that they have been reduced from considering what it will take to win to what they will be allowed to do by this administration," he wrote.

U.S. service members will pay the price for the absence of a coherent strategy and commitment to winning, McCain said. In Vietnam, the lack of a clear plan of action led to an erosion of public support and America's eventual withdrawal.

McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years, an experience that adds weight to his criticism. In October 1967, during a bombing mission over North Vietnam, a missile struck McCain's plane, forcing him to eject. He was imprisoned in what become known as the "Hanoi Hilton," where he was denied medical treatment and tortured by the North Vietnamese. He was released in March 1973.

In the letter to Carter, McCain said his committee needs a full accounting of the current scale and scope of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State. Among the figures he wants are the numbers of U.S. military and civilian personnel in Iraq and Syria, and the length of time needed to retake Islamic State strongholds in both countries.

McCain asked for a response from Carter within the next two weeks.

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner