McCain Calls for More Ground Troops to Fight ISIS

Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is calling for more U.S. ground troops in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

McCain said more ground fighters are needed to defeat ISIS and that the U.S. should establish a no-fly zone.

"A strategy must include taking an unambiguous stance against Assad's rule, establishing a no-fly zone to protect civilians and provide cover to our allies on the ground, moving quickly to provide robust support to moderate units of the Free Syrian Army, and embedding additional United States special operations forces and advisers with our partners on the ground," he said in a statement.

"Until such actions are taken, ISIL (another abbreviation for ISIS) will continue to grow and pose an even greater danger to our national security interests."

McCain put out the statement to clarify similar and somewhat ambiguous remarks he made a day earlier on CBS' "Face the Nation" program.

Several major news outlets reported that McCain was calling for "boots on the ground" in Yemen but the statement made clear that he was only referring to the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Although the U.S.-coalition already has overwhelming air superiority over Iraq and Syria, an enforced no-fly zone in Iraq and Syria would prevent the Assad regime from targeting civilians or rebel forces supported by the U.S. coalition, officials with McCain's office told Military.com.

"Senator McCain has called for a no-fly zone in Syria to provide cover to our partners on the ground, as well as to protect besieged communities from attacks by the Assad regime, which has capitalized upon U.S.-led coalition airstrikes to launch air and ground assaults on the Free Syrian Army," said a McCain staffer.

"If President Obama intends to train and equip moderate Syrians to fight ISIL on our behalf, we cannot allow them to be barrel-bombed by Assad's air force in the process."

Regarding the potential use of more U.S. ground troops, there has been discussion among analysts and military officials regarding the limits of air power. This is why some U.S. forces have been in Iraq to work with and train the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can reclaim territory freed up by the ongoing air attacks, Pentagon officials said.

Even though the U.S. military is using the latest in precision-weaponry and targeting technology from the air, there are limits to what can be accomplished from the sky, analysts maintain. U.S. warplanes are dropping laser-and-GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, including the laser-guided GBU-54 which can pinpoint moving targets. 

In addition to precision strikes from the air designed to degrade and destroy ISIS' fighting capacity, territory often needs to be physically re-claimed from the ground in order to make the impact of airstrikes more lasting and effective.

Pentagon officials said that Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have made gains on the ground with efforts retake territory from ISIS. Bolstered by U.S.-coalition airstrikes, ISF forces have gained territory in Southwest Baghdad, Baiji and Amiriyah, among other places.

Overall, the U.S. currently has about 2,400 ground troops in Iraq to assist ISF forces, Pentagon officials said. The number of U.S. ground troops in Iraq is expected to climb above 3,000 in coming weeks.

The latest news from U.S. Central Command reports that airstrikes using drones, fighter jets and other aircraft continue over Iraq and Syria. In total, 21 airstrikes were conducted against ISIS on Jan. 25, a CentCom statement said.

ISIS fighting positions, units, mortar-firing positions, vehicles and armored vehicles were destroyed by U.S. and coalition military forces, according to a CentCom statement.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

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