Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2015.
Jim Young/Reuters

Scott Walker won’t rule out ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told ABC that he is not opposed to deploying American combat troops to defend the U.S. and its allies, including in the fight against ISIS, during an interview on ‘This Week’ Sunday.

“I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world,” Walker said, adding, “we have to go beyond just aggressive air strikes… and ultimately, we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes.”

The U.S. and coalition members have launched more than 2,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq since August 8, and have provided troops to help train and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground.  

UP, 2/1/15, 8:21 AM ET

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In an interview at the end of September, President Obama acknowledged that the U.S. “underestimated” the gains ISIS was able to make in Syria in the midst of that country’s bloody four-year civil war.

Obama, who officially ended the nearly nine-year Iraq War in 2011, stressed that the mission against ISIS is not America’s alone.

“This is not America against ISIL, this is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with to make sure that they are able to take care of their business,” Obama said.

In November, Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 additional troops to serve in a non-combat role and help train Iraqi and Kurdish forces, nearly doubling the American military presence in the country.

Over a 24-hour period on Friday and Saturday, the anti-ISIS coalition launched 27 airstrikes against 76 ISIS targets, destroying a factory that manufactures vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, according to a tweet posted by the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk. A day earlier, McGurk confirmed the death of an ISIS chemical weapons engineer trained under Saddam Hussein in an airstrike in Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.

In a video released Saturday, ISIS claimed to have beheaded Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, one week after beheading another Japanese hostage. On Sunday, the Jordanian government responded with a renewed offer to hand over an al Qaeda prisoner in exchange for another ISIS hostage, Jordanian fighter pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

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While coalition airstrikes have successfully pushed ISIS back in some key Iraqi territory, fewer gains have been made in Syria, absent a partnership with embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

When pressed to clarify whether he was endorsing putting “U.S. boots on the ground in Syria,” Walker responded, “No, I don’t think that is an immediate plan,” but said “I wouldn’t rule anything out.” 

“I think when you have the lives of Americans at stake and our freedom-loving allies anywhere in the world, we have to be prepared to do things that don’t allow those measures, those attacks, those abuses to come to our shores,” Walker said.

Walker’s position is consistent with that of most Americans, according to an October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Forty-one percent of respondents endorsed American combat troops on the ground in addition to airstrikes, while 35% said they favored airstrikes only. Fifteen percent of respondents advocated against military action to combat ISIS.

Just a month earlier, more Americans favored airstrikes only. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the increased support for ground troops was “fueled mostly by group that make up the GOP base,” including self-described Republicans, men over 50, white men, and seniors.

In a new Iowa poll of likely Republican caucus-goers released by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, Scott Walker led a tight field of potential G.O.P. candidates with 15 percent of the vote. The poll found Walker to be the number two choice among people who said they wanted an establishment candidate, as well as those who favored an anti-establishment candidate.

Scott Walker won't rule out 'boots on the ground' in Syria