- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense Secretary Ash Carter defended the U.S. strategy for defeating Islamic State militants, telling Congress on Thursday that U.S.-backed local forces in Iraq and Syria are making substantive gains toward retaking the extremist group’s strongholds.

Carter counseled against sending a large, American-led “foreign ground force” to battle the Islamic State. Such a move would play into the hands of the extremists, he said, “fighting on the enemy’s terms of ground combat amid a local population that has previously responded violently to such an approach.”

But the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, criticized the Obama administration’s approach in Iraq and Syria as reactive, slow, and insufficient. McCain also said military operations in both countries are being micromanaged by officials in Washington, which is causing them to lose sight of the larger strategic picture.

“Put simply, too many of our leaders appear involved in the tactical fight … and not enough in the strategic fight,” McCain said. “And despite the real tactical gains we have made, we must ask ourselves: Is this working? Are we winning? Are we getting ahead of the threats and problems we face? Or are they getting ahead of us?”

Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. cyberattacks against the Islamic State are continuing and aim to disrupt the group’s financial support and recruiting abilities.

“The objectives there are to interrupt (the Islamic State’s) command and control, interrupt its ability to move money around, interrupt its ability to tyrannize and control population, interrupt its ability to recruit externally,” Carter said.

The overall goal, Dunford added, is to put the extremists in “virtual isolation.”

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