Hagel says air war against ISIS will intensify

The U.S. defense chief say ISIS continues to represent a serious threat to American interests

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U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday the U.S.-led air war against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will intensify and that the American people must prepare for a long and difficult struggle.

Hagel defended the U.S. strategy during a House of Representatives hearing, saying, “As Iraqi forces build strength, the tempo and intensity of our coalition's air campaign will accelerate in tandem.”

“ISIL’s advance in parts of Iraq has stalled, and in some cases been reversed, by Iraqi, Kurdish, and tribal forces supported by U.S. and coalition airstrikes,” Hagel said.

He used the term ISIL, another acronym for the militant group.

“But ISIL continues to represent a serious threat to American interests, our allies, and the Middle East ... and wields influence over a broad swath of territory in western and northern Iraq and eastern Syria.”

The testimony of Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer, comes just days after President Barack Obama asked Congress for a new $5.6 billion plan to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq and send up to 1,500 more American troops to the war-torn nation, the Associated Press reports.

Obama authorized the deployment of advisory teams and trainers to bolster struggling Iraqi forces across the country, including into Iraq's western Anbar province where fighting with Islamic State militants has been fierce. Obama's plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There are currently about 1,400 U.S. troops there, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.

Lawmakers expressed skepticism about limiting the U.S. deployment to advisers and trainers, with Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, arguing that “limiting our advisers to headquarters buildings will not help newly trained Iraqi and Syrian opposition forces hold terrain, much less defeat ISIL in the field. Yet, the president has doubled down on his policy of 'no boots on the ground,' despite any advice you give him.”

Congress also must decide whether to reauthorize training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels, an authority that expires Dec. 11.

Lawmakers are bracing for a broader fight next year over a new authorization to use military force to replace the post-Sept. 11 law and the one crafted for the Iraq war 11 years ago.

[With the Associated Press]

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