The U.S. campaign against ISIS continued over the weekend as American military forces conducted three airstrikes in Syria and six in Iraq, destroying ISIL vehicles and firing positions.
The airstrikes are part of President Obama’s two-month effort to “degrade and destroy” strongholds of the terrorist organization. On Friday, the group announced that it had beheaded United Kingdom citizen Alan Henning, a volunteer aid worker who had traveled to Syria. Henning is the fourth westerner to be beheaded by ISIS on camera.
In the video, ISIS threatened the life of another hostage, Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old U.S. aid worker. On Saturday, Kassig’s family released a YouTube video asking for his return; his father said, “We implore his captors to show mercy and use their power to let our son go.”
The militant group is gaining ground in the Syrian city of Kobani, near the Turkish border, where Turkish police fired teargas to disperse onlookers Saturday. The Turkish parliament voted Thursday to authorize military action against ISIS, which the Syrian foreign ministry labeled an “act of aggression.” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has lobbied for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster to be a top coalition priority. Turkey is key among the more than 40 nations that have joined the coalition against ISIS, as it is the first to authorize ground troops and offers strategic base locations for the enforcement of a no-fly zone.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., advocated a strong Iraqi military as the best defense against ISIS during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and argued against deploying U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS.
“Effective Iraq military forces on the ground will probably be more effective than a short-term introduction of American forces,” Reed said, noting that “there has to be a ground component” and “airpower alone can’t win.”
“But when you take our superiority in the air, and you put forces that will fight — and we’re a ways from that point with Iraq forces but we have to get there — then you have the combination to put the pressure on [ISIS], move it back, and eventually degrade it and destroy it.”
Should Democrats retain control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections, Reed is poised to take over as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On the same program, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voiced support for “boots on the ground” and criticized Obama’s decision not to deploy ground troops and not to establish a no-fly zone over Syria.
“This strategy we have regarding the Free Syrian Army is going to get all these kids slaughtered if we don’t deal with Assad’s air force,” Graham said, regarding U.S. plans to provide training and support to the Free Syrian Army.
“This mythical Arab army we’re trying to get up to go in on the ground in Syria will need a lot of American hand-holding,” Graham said. “Mr. President, level with the American people: You need boots on the ground.”
“American soldiers to go to Syria and Iraq as part of a coalition, and we’re going to need more than 4,000 to destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria,” Graham said.