Wednesday, December 9, 2015


To receive testimony on the U.S. strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria 

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Let me join you in welcoming our witnesses.  This morning’s hearing is timely in light of several recent and concerning events, including ISIL claiming responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner, the attacks on innocent civilians in Beirut and Paris, and the deadly attack in San Bernardino by what appear to be self-radicalized individuals.  Our hearts go out to the victims of these terrible and senseless tragedies. 

As the President outlined in his speech to the nation on Sunday, it is critical that the U.S.-led 60-plus-nation Coalition for defeating ISIL pursue a multidimensional approach.  The United States and its coalition partners are intensifying their efforts to degrade ISIL militarily and deny their leaders any safe haven; to cut off ISIL financing; to interdict the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL controlled territories; and to counter the spread of ISIL’s murderous ideology that the President characterized as part of a cult of death.  Such an approach will require the careful coordination of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement efforts to combat ISIL across the departments of the U.S. Government and within our coalition. 

Recently, the Administration announced a number of steps to intensify our military efforts in Iraq and Syria.  These include: the deployment of A-10s to Turkey; the addition of special operations forces in northern Syria to assist local forces; and most recently, the announcement by Secretary Carter last week of the intent to deploy, in full coordination with the Government of Iraq, an expeditionary targeting force to assist the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in removing ISIL leaders from the battlefield.  In addition, coalition partners, including Britain, France and Germany, have stepped up their contributions to the fight against ISIL since the Paris attacks.  I welcome these continuing efforts to re-evaluate and enhance our military campaign and would be interested in any additional steps that may be under consideration to intensify the military pressure on ISIL in Iraq and Syria.   

At the same time, a sustainable defeat of ISIL in the region requires that ground combat forces be primarily local forces, though U.S. forces can provide critical advice, assistance and enablers.  Putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria would play directly into the ISIL narrative we are working to defeat – potentially providing our enemies a propaganda victory that could be exploited for recruiting and fundraising purposes.  We need to look no further than the ISIL propaganda targeting Russia.

It is also clear that a sustainable outcome will only be possible with more inclusive governance by the Abadi Government in Baghdad and a political transition in Syria that puts an end to the brutality of the Assad regime.  Russia’s direct intervention in the Syrian conflict will continue to further reduce the chances of achieving an acceptable political solution so long as Russia remains focused on attacking the moderate Syrian opposition while claiming to be joining the anti-ISIL fight.  

We will be interested in hearing from our witnesses regarding the progress of the campaign to defeat ISIL; and of the status of our efforts to train, equip, and assist local forces in Syria and Iraq to be able to clear ISIL forces and then hold territory re-taken from ISIL control.  General, I hope you will also address whether we now have the right command structure for Operation Inherent Resolve and whether our military commanders in theater have the flexibility they need to carry out the campaign plan.  Finally, the committee would be interested to get an assessment from our witnesses of the factors contributing to the expansion of ISIL and associated groups beyond the Syria-Iraq region, and what the Department needs to counter the threat posed by ISIL’s spreading influence. 

Again, I thank our witnesses and look forward to their testimony.