President Barack Obama’s highly contested Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS is enough to get the job done, according to officials from the Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command.
“I think we’ll have what we need… to address the counter ISIL campaign,” Gen. Lloyd Austin, the U.S. CENTCOM commander in charge of implementing Obama’s proposed AUMF, told the House Committee on Armed Services Tuesday. “To accomplish what’s been given to me in this current mission set, I think we have the flexibility to get the work done.”
Austin said he is confident that the United States will be able to degrade and defeat ISIS without large formations or “battalions and brigades” of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, contrary to what many critics of Obama’s strategy are calling for.
Such confidence, he said, is based on what the United States is currently doing against ISIS, and the significant progress that has already been made.
“Ladies and gentlemen we are making progress. In fact, we’re about where we said we would be in the execution of our military campaign plan,” said Austin. “You go back several months ago, ISIL was moving around in large convoy formations, flying a lot of black flags, taking up large swaths of territory. They can no longer do that.”
He reported that air operations have killed more than 8,500 ISIS fighters, and destroyed hundreds of vehicles “along with tanks and heavy weapons systems” since August.
These efforts, according to Austin, have significantly degraded ISIS’ ability to control territory, command forces and also its primary sources of revenue — “namely his oil refineries and crude collection points,” and overall have put the terrorist organization on the defensive.
“ISIL is losing this fight,” concluded Austin. “I am certain that he will be defeated.”
He said there is still work to be done, but that most of the responsibility will fall on the Iraqis.
Christine Wormuth, undersecretary for defense policy at the Department of Defense, agrees that Iraqi troops need to step up to defend their own country, but said their military activity is just part of a “broader whole of government strategy.”
“Fundamentally, our approach is based on a federal government in Baghdad. We believe that we have better prospects for success both in terms of sustaining Iraq as a country, but also in terms of defeating ISIL… doing that through a single Iraqi state,” she said. “We are fundamentally taking the approach that we need to provide support through Baghdad.”
She said victory is defined “when ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States,” and that it will take some time to get to that point.
However, Wormuth pointed out that 60 countries are currently part of the coalition to defeat ISIS, with 12 to 15 helping out in the airstrike campaigns, and the others contributing in different ways based on their strengths.
Some members of the committee still expressed concern that the proposed AUMF would tie the hands of the U.S. military, but Austin replied that Congress can “rest assured that I’m going to ask for whatever I need to accomplish the mission as a commander.”
“I would ask congress to do its part to make sure we avoid sequestration.”
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