- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

As the Islamic State makes gains across the Middle East, President Obama said Monday his administration still doesn’t have a “complete strategy” for dealing with the terrorist group — an admission that drew fire from critics who charge the commander in chief is failing one of the key foreign policy tests of his tenure.

At a press conference following a G7 meeting in Germany, the president acknowledged that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has seen successes of late, including seizing the Iraqi city of Ramadi last month. Turning the tide and defeating the group, Mr. Obama said, will require greater U.S. training and equipping of Iraqi forces, who at times have been overwhelmed by Islamic State fighters.

But the president conceded that, nearly a year after the U.S. began bombing Islamic State targets, the White House still hasn’t developed a full plan for coordinating with the Iraqi military and ultimately destroying the Islamic State. He seemed to place much of the burden for developing such a plan on the Department of Defense.

“When a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, I will share it with the American people. We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the party of the Iraqis as well as about how recruitment takes place — how that training takes place,” he said. “The details of that are not worked out.”

Mr. Obama’s comments came less than an hour after he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who vowed to continue the fight against the Islamic State but stressed that “the efforts of the international community” will be vital.

As a whole, the G7 — the U.S., U.K., Japan, Canada, France, Germany and Italy — listed the Islamic State as a top global concern, but emerged with no new declaration on exactly how to defeat the terrorist organization.

Critics were quick to pounce on the White House.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Mr. Obama’s failure to develop a “complete strategy” is the reason why the Islamic State continues to gain ground and retain control of large sections of Iraq and Syria.

“We aren’t winning the fight against ISIL because we don’t have a winning plan. The President can’t delay anymore — especially as ISIL continues to make major gains. We need a robust strategy that protects American interests in the region, bolsters regional stability, and doesn’t tie the hands of our military commanders who have been tasked with leading the fight. We need that strategy now,” reads a post on the majority leader’s website.

Republican presidential candidates also jumped on Mr. Obama’s words, using them to draw clear foreign policy distinctions heading into the 2016 White House race.

“If I were commander in chief, it would not take nine months to work with our military leaders to develop a complete strategy to destroy ISIS and protect American security interests and values,” said former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who recently announced a second presidential bid.

Still, the president denied that the U.S. is losing.

“We have made significant progress in pushing back ISIL from areas which they had occupied or [where they had] disrupted local populations, but we’ve also seen areas, like in Ramadi, where they’re displaced in one place and then come back in another,” he said. “They’re nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic, so one of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we train Iraqi forces.”

The U.S. now has nearly 3,000 troops in Iraq in the train, advise and assist role. By policy, they are prevented from participation in direct land combat and can station themselves no lower than brigade headquarters. They man two joint combined operations centers, one in Abril in northern Iraq and one in Baghdad.

Some lawmakers have called for introducing special operations forces to conduct hunt-and-kill missions against Islamic State cells and leaders. They also propose introducing Joint Terminal Attack Controllers who could point out enemy targets for pilots and drones. But Mr. Obama has resisted such moves.

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