Senator John McCain has warned that the Islamic State (ISIS) is winning in Iraq and Syria, and that the United States needs to deploy ground troops if it is to stave off defeat.
The Arizona Republican urged a “fundamental re-evaluation” of US strategy on Sunday, as the extremist group, which is the target of US-led international air strikes, continued to advance into the Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria, near the border with Turkey, and towards the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
“They’re winning, and we’re not,” McCain told CNN . “The Iraqis are not winning. The Peshmerga, the Kurds are not winning.”
Susan Rice, the White House’s national security adviser, defended Barack Obama’s strategy and appeared to rule out any dramatic change.
“We are in the early stages of what is going to be, as President Obama has said, a long-term effort,” she told NBC. “We’re trying over time to degrade and ultimately destroy [Isis].
“This is going to take time. Our air campaign is off to a strong start. We’ve seen some very important successes.”
McCain said Washington needed to revamp its two-month-old “pinprick” aerial bombing campaign by deploying special forces to improve targeting and to co-ordinate with Kurdish and Iraqi allies.
He warned of a looming massacre in Kobani and the possibility of Baghdad airport – thought not the city itself – falling to Isis. “We can’t afford to let this continue,” he said. “The stronger Isis gets, the greater the threat to the United States of America.”
McCain said the US needed to create a no-fly and buffer zone and also needed to take the fight to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a civil war for three years but who has consolidated his position in recent months. “There’s no boundary between Syria and Iraq,” said McCain. “Why should we differentiate?”
Isis fighters are closing in on the centre of besieged Kobani, where the Kurdish militia have sworn that they will fight to the death, and hundreds of desperate civilians are trapped in streets rank with the smell of rotting bodies .
Other units from the Islamist militant group have seized much of Anbar province, a desert region to the west of Baghdad, and have reportedly reached Abu Ghraib , a suburb of the capital.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said US Apache helicopters had rebuffed a recent Isis attempt to seize Baghdad airport. “Had they overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the airport,” he told ABC. “So we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport.”
Rice said the new Iraqi government was rebuilding armed forces which had “atrophied” under the sectarian rule of the former president, Nouri al-Maliki, and that there was no need for US ground troops.
“We’ll do our part in the air … we are not going to be in a ground war again in Iraq,” Rice said, before warning of a long haul nonetheless. “There will be good days and bad days, victories and setbacks.”
James Baker, a secretary of state under the first President Bush, told NBC he would not be surprised if Iran was secretly helping the US against Isis, a common foe. Henry Kissinger, another former secretary of state, told the same programme Iran was a potential US ally.
Rice, however, said Iran remained outside the US-led coalition against Isis. “We’re not in coordination or direct consultation with the Iranians,” she said.
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