As President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande in Paris to discuss global terrorism and climate change, a handful of U.S. senators are pushing their own plan to take the fight to ISIS. On Sunday, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham announced a plan to significantly beef up the American troop presence in Iraq and Syria, the Guardian reports.
The proposed plan, announced during a visit to Baghdad, would increase the total number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria to 20,000. That's a big jump from the 3,500 American ground troops currently deployed there, most of whom are serving as trainers and advisors to Iraqi forces. An elite few, however, have been involved in raids against the Islamic State. — and the Republican senators insist we need more of that:
"The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle," Graham told reporters during a visit to Bagdhad. "The only way you can destroy the caliphate is with a ground component." McCain and Graham are thus calling for the deployment of more combat troops, including forward air controllers and Special Forces operators, like the ones President Obama deployed last month to Syria to assist Kurdish forces battling ISIS in the country's embattled north.
Of course, more boots on the ground means more opportunities for Americans to get sucked directly into the fight. An ambush on, say, a SEAL team in Ramadi could require the mobilization of ground assets to come to its aid. In such a scenario, we could see regular U.S. infantry units engaged in the kind of heavy combat the Obama administration has sought to avoid since withdrawing combat troops from Iraq in 2011.
The picture becomes even more complicated when we consider Russia and Iran, who have been ramping up military operations in the region to bolster the beleaguered Assad regime, as well as Shia militias fighting in both Syria and Iraq. As a counterbalance, McCain and Graham are also calling for the creation of a 100,000-man strong coalition of Sunni Arab forces to be deployed to both countries. The coalition would be primarily composed of soldiers from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, and would be reinforced by the proposed 20,000 American soldiers on the ground.
“One reason I’d want to have more American troops is it neutralizes the Shia militia advantage to some extent,” said Graham.
With tensions rising between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Russia and Turkey, the deployment of an American-backed Sunni Arab coalition risks all of this exploding into a wider regional conflict. Meanwhile, some U.S. counter-terrorism experts fear increased involvement would only strengthen the Islamic State. "[They've] warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding ISIS's apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the west and its authoritarian Arab allies," explains the Guardian.
Nevertheless, on the heels of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, McCain and Graham are determined to strike while the iron is hot. “[Arab] countries for a long time have not seen what’s happening as a direct threat to them," McCain told reporters. "Now I believe that they do.”