Sen. Kaine presses for clarity on ground troops in action against ISIL

kaine new2During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey on the proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL, announced by President Obama last month. For more than eight months, Kaine has been a leading voice calling for Congress to debate and vote on a new authorization against the terrorist group.

“We are now in the eighth month of a war,” said Kaine. “There has not been a Congressional authorization of the war. Except for the Foreign Relations Committee vote in December, no committee has taken it up. There’s been no floor debate. And I view that as highly, highly challenging and disturbing in terms of the way the nation makes the most grave decision we’re supposed to make.”

Expressing his hope that Congress will be able to pass a strong, bipartisan authorization, Kaine noted, “if we were to pass it in a narrow way or a partisan way, that would not send a message that would make people risking their lives feel very good about the risk that they are taking.” Kaine also spoke about the need to find a bipartisan path forward in remarks on the Senate floor yesterday.

In an effort to seek clarity on language in the proposed AUMF regarding the prohibition of U.S. ground troops – that “no enduring offensive ground combat operations” would be permitted – Kaine questioned the witnesses on whether Operation Desert Storm, where nearly 700,000 Americans were deployed for up to seven months from 1990-91, would be considered an “enduring ground combat operation.”

All three witnesses said no.

In closing, Kaine acknowledged the “danger of a ground troop creep” under the proposed AUMF language and pressed for more clarity in the definition.

“This has got to be the region’s fight against its own terrorism,” said Kaine. “If the region won’t weigh in to battle its own terrorist threat, there’s no amount of [U.S.] ground troops we could put into Iraq or Syria to win the battles there.”

“I think this authorization itself in its current form guards against that,” Secretary Kerry said in response. “Why did these guys like taking us on to some degree? Because if it’s just us…that’s what they want. And we’re not getting suckered into that. That’s why we built the 62 coalition. That’s why we worked so hard to get these five Arab countries engaged in the kinetic activities for this. It’s precisely to deny them that narrative. … So as long as we continue to work on the integration, the internal inclusivity of Iraq and its government, as long as we continue to help the Iraqis be able to do this themselves, help the region feel empowered by it, that is a long-term recipe for the United States not to have as much risk and not to have to put ourselves on the line in a way we have historically. So we think we’re on the right track here, and, in fact, the very strategy we’re pursuing adheres to the very standards that you most want to have in place in order to protect against mission creep.”


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