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Former Army Vice Chief Pushes New Ground Strategy for Defeating ISIS

In this undated file photo released by a militant website militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags as they ride in a convoy,. (Militant website via AP, File)
In this undated file photo released by a militant website militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags as they ride in a convoy,. (Militant website via AP, File)

Former U.S. Army vice chief of staff retired Gen. Jack Keane, laid out a plan to Congress today for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that would involve thousands of troops, vehicles, attack helicopters and large-scale commando raids.

Keane now serves as the chairman of the board for the Institute for the Study of War, but this is not the first time he has publically advised U.S. leaders from retirement on warfighting strategy. He was a key architect behind the "surge" operation in 2007 that many say led to the defeat of the insurgency in the Iraq war.

Keane testified at a Nov. 18 joint hearing before the House committees on Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs to discuss the rise of radicalism in the wake of the terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris.

The Friday, Nov. 13 attacks killed 129 people and sent out a wave of fear throughout the west that was quickly followed by calls for war.

On the following Monday, Sen. John McCain and GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham made a renewed push for committing thousands of U.S. ground forces to lead a large ground campaign against ISIS.

"ISIS is the most successful terrorist organization in modern history," Keane told lawmakers. "What ISIS has accomplished in the last few weeks is unprecedented and quite stunning. While conducting a conventional war in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has staged terrorist attacks on a global scale against the people from the countries who are fighting ISIS."

Keane joined the chorus of critics against President Obama's strategy of containment, arguing that it's time to abandon the current policy of "strategic patience -- which is an excuse for a lack of an aggressive, coherent strategy."

"The United States and our allied partners need to wake up," Keane said. "ISIS is at war with us and civilization, but in my judgment, America is not truly at war with ISIS -- not the President, nor the Congress and certainly not the American people."

Keane recommended an escalation of U.S. Military activities in Iraq and Syria.

"Once and for all, send the required number of advisors, trainers and air controllers that are truly needed to dramatically increase combat effectiveness," he said. "Dramatically increase UAVs, mine-clearing vehicles, Apache helicopters and a host of other much-needed equipment."

Keane's plan also calls for using special-operations forces to conduct "large-scale" in-and-out raids to target ISIS critical nodes and functions.

Initially, the effort would require at least 10,000 U.S. troops, but leaders should "identify combat brigades ... for potential deployment" that would be held in reserve, Keane said.

The plan would also establish safe zones in Northwest Syria along the Turkish border and in Southwest Syria along the Jordanian border for refugees.

"Protect on the ground with an international force; protect from the air using coalition air power and with Jordanian and Turkish missile defense on their side of the border," Keane said.

Several lawmakers criticized the current air campaign as being ineffective, that too much caution is being used to avoid collateral damage.

Keane's plan would "unleash a devastating air campaign without the imposed restrictions of the last 15 months which has disproportionate to all other air campaigns to prevent civilian casualties."

"We can do this; we know how to do this and we can have a very effective air campaign that will give us results," Keane said.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, said he was concerned about the consequences of getting bogged down in a ground war similar to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Reports have shown that ISIS wants to lure the United States into a ground war, into a war that they can fight," he said.

"It seems that every time we intervene things seem to wind up worse. ... How can we be sure that we just don't get sucked in again and bogged down in another ground war which I don't think the American people really want or our ready for?"

Keane agreed that that should be avoided.

"Most analysts are not calling for significant ground combat units to go ... into Syria and back into Iraq," Keane said.

Instead, Keane said the U.S. should go "all in" to support indigenous forces and put the same amount of effort into a political solution that the administration put into the recent Iran nuclear deal.

"Our effort to support these local indigenous forces has been, in my judgment, very inadequate," Keane said.

"If we ever had to put combat brigades in there, we would only do that in junction with an Arab and NATO coalition, and I don't think we should be the majority of the force."

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

 

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