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Republican Senators Call for US-Led Ground War against ISIS

Senate Armed Service Committee member, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Senate Armed Service Committee member, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Republican Sen. John McCain and GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham made a renewed push for committing thousands of U.S. ground forces to fight extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The U.S. military needs to lead a large-scale ground campaign made up of regional armies from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to defeat ISIS forces occupying large portions of Iraq, McCain and Graham said on CNN.

The response came Monday after terrorist linked to ISIS carried out a series of coordinated attacks Friday on innocent civilians in Paris. The attacks left 129 dead and hundreds more injured.

To protect Americans at home, "I'm looking for an away game when it comes to ISIL, not a home game. I want to fight them in their backyard," Graham said, using another term for ISIS.

"I have a plan to destroy ISIS," he added. "Use the armies in the region which are large and professional; integrate our forces among those armies with the French and other NATO nations."

U.S. ground forces would make up about 10 percent of the entire ground campaign of 80,000 to 100,000 troops, Graham said.

"Go in on the ground and destroy these people before they hit us here at home and continue to do damage," he said. "There is no other way to defeat this enemy."

President Obama today described the Paris attacks as a "terrible" setback in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, but reiterated his opposition to committing U.S. ground troops in Iraq.

"This is not conventional warfare," Obama said at a meeting of the Group of 20 in Turkey.  "We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they are a state and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state; that is not what is going on here."

Obama said he has no doubt U.S. military forces could defeat ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, but such a move would require a long-term occupation to ensure they do not return.

"Let's assume we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria; what happens if there is a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?" Obama said. "Do we then send more troops in there or Libya perhaps? Or what if there is a terrorist network that is operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia? A strategy has to be one that can be sustained.

"And the strategy that we are pursuing goes after targets limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground, systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure ... cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they operate until ultimately, we are able to defeat them. That is the strategy we are going to pursue."

As part of this strategy, the Pentagon recently announced it is sending 50 Special Forces soldiers into Syria to help rebel groups fight ISIS.

Graham criticized the effort as being nowhere near enough to be effective.

"When we put 50 Special Forces on the ground, that reinforces the view of ISIL that Obama is not serious about degrading and destroying ISIL," he said.

"I'm running for president, but we don't have until January 2017 to deal with this. I offer my services to my president as a Republican to rally my party along with Sen. McCain to a different strategy -- a more robust response that would require a ground component."

Obama said he will not take actions designed to "work politically" or "make America look tough."

"We will do what is required to keep the American people safe," he said. "Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do? Present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisers are somehow better than the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who actually on the ground, I want to meet them, and we can have that debate."

McCain said Obama should seek counsel from retired generals David Petraeus, Jack Keane and James Mattis -- leaders who were involved in designing and carrying out the 2007 "surge" operation in the Iraq war that many credit for defeating the insurgency.

"If the President had any sense at all, he would call ... on those people that are really the most respected in America and the world, and they will give him a strategy."

--Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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