PENTAGON - The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee has urged President Barack Obama to form a multinational coalition to build a ground force that can destroy the Islamic State “terrorist sanctuary” in Syria.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, called for a strategy “overhaul” that places a combined air-and-ground campaign in Syria composed of vetted opposition forces, Western trainers and advisers, special operations forces and regional military partners.
The United States is training moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State forces but have graduated only about 60 fighters so far.
“Our policy with regards to Syria remains to continue to do the training mission for the moderate Syrian opposition who are specifically being called upon to fight ISIL,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Wednesday, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms.
However, McCaul said the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also must be part of the plan if the coalition truly wants to deny a terrorist safe haven in Syria.
“With Assad out of the way, they [the rebels] stand a far better chance,” McCaul said.
He added that officials from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had told him that they were willing to put forward the resources and combat troops in Syria, but that they didn't want to put any resources forward that could one day be used to bolster the Assad regime.
A U.S. defense official told VOA that although Assad’s rule is a “challenging” factor in the fight against Islamic State, the U.S. military will not interfere in Syrian politics.
“We can’t just go and force a regime change because we think Assad’s a bad guy and a bozo we’d like to see leave,” the official said. “That’s not how we operate.”
McCaul said a multinational ground force in Syria is needed to help prevent terror plots in the United States by people he said are “captivated by an evil and twisted ideology that drives vulnerable minds into unconscionable acts of violence and hate.”
He said there have been more than a dozen Islamic State-linked terror plots in the country.
“We are losing the war on both fronts,” McCaul said. “The best homeland defense is a good offense, and we have to take the fight overseas.”
The Homeland Security Committee chairman’s comments came less than a week after a gunman killed four Marines and a sailor in attacks on military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said t is treating the alleged shooter, Muhammad Abdulazeez, 24, who was born in Kuwait and was a naturalized U.S. citizen, as a "homegrown extremist."
Counterterrorism investigators have uncovered evidence the accused gunman had recently searched the Internet for Islamic martyrdom and say he most likely was influenced by online propaganda spread by violent Islamist extremists such as Islamic State and al-Qaida.