I have been to war. I have fought against Islamic terrorist organizations. Yes, Mr. President, they do exist.
As a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs, a retired commander at SEAL Team Six and the former deputy commander of Joint Special Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I know what it takes to defeat and destroy a terrorist organization like the Islamic State (ISIS). However, President Obama’s request for authorization for use of military force is not a plan for victory. It is an ambiguous, politically motivated document that lacks any sense of military strategy.
Contrary to Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s comments, ISIS is not “on the road” to defeat. The stark reality is airstrikes have not worked. The Islamic State is gaining territory. The number of foreign fighters for ISIS in Syria and Iraq is increasing. Funding to ISIS is increasing. It has carried out attacks in Europe and is planning attacks on the U.S. homeland. Similar groups in Yemen and Africa are on the rise. Just six months ago, the president recognized Yemen as a success story. Today, the United States is abandoning Yemen as terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are seizing the capitol and murdering its opposition.
The first step to defeating an enemy is to recognize the nature of the threat. ISIS is a radical Islamic terrorist organization. We must separate radical elements from mainstream Islam. The situation we face is as much of a civil war within Islam as it is a war with the West. It is in the world’s best interest to build an Islamic coalition to fight this evil.
While I was serving in Iraq, we were successful because we formed a coalition of Islamic states and local Sunni and Kurdish tribes. The United States needs to begin the same process today. The fight against ISIS needs to be powered locally but heavily supported by the United States. We have the ability to provide relief to local tribes and allied fighters in the form of food, fuel, medical supplies, military equipment and ammunition. The United States must also work to ensure a logistical footprint so that the aid and munitions do not continue to fall into enemy hands.
I know from experience that ground forces are needed to accomplish the mission. The president’s AUMF request specifically states that “enduring offensive ground combat operations” will not be used. Asymmetrical warfare, like the fight against ISIS, will not be won with airstrikes alone. The former head of the Marine Corps, Commandant Gen. James Conway, who served during the war in Iraq, agrees.
Ground forces are critical to achieving the mission on a number of fronts and we cannot scatter a few troops here and there without providing sufficient support. Limiting ground forces to rescue missions and intelligence collection, as the president’s proposal seeks, will only tie our troops’ hands behind their backs. When the United States tells the enemy where the lines are drawn, and which tactics the military will and will not use, it emboldens them and puts U.S. troops at risk. We must do everything we can as a nation to ensure our soldiers have the right leadership, training, equipment and the right rules of engagement to win decisively on the battlefield.
It is true, ground forces will help with rescue missions and will supply critical intelligence to intensify air strikes. However, adequate ground forces will also allow us to protect our own troops and reduce collateral damage with more precise airstrikes. Ground forces also allow us to combat enemy forces, recruit and train our allies, deploy quick response teams, create blocking forces to prevent ISIS advances, and will allow us to protect villages and territories after ISIS retreats.
Lastly, the president should enact measures beyond military action like revoking passports of U.S. citizens aligning with ISIS. According to U.S. intelligence officials, around 150 American citizens have attempted to or have already gone abroad to fight for ISIS.
As a retired commander, I look at Mr. Obama’s proposal and all I see is an outline of what our troops are not allowed to do. Congress should not be asked to put restrictions on the military.
I have been to more funerals than any man should. I know what is at stake when we send our sons and daughters to war. That is why when the United States does go to war, we go to war to win. It is time the president stops listening to political pollsters and finally develops a plan to win.
• Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.