tv Hearing on U.S. Policy in Iraq and Syria CSPAN May 25, 2015 12:00am-1:01am EDT
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two retired generals in the current strategy in iraq and syria with regard to i is failing -- isis is failing. experts testified before the senate armed services committee. this comes as isis takes control of ramadi. this is 2.5 hours. senator mccain: the committee meets today to receive testimony on u.s. policy in iraq and syria. i want to thank each of our expert witnesses for appearing before us today on this critical and complex topic. before i go any further, the secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs were invited to appear admittedly very short notice and we will be asking them to
appear after the recess is over depending on whether the bill is on the floor or not, but we certainly would like to hear from the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs. today we have general jack keane, former vice chief of staff for the army and chairman of the institute for the study of war, and general keane, we are pleased you could take time from your duties on fox news to being with us today. dr. fred kagan, who is -- that's a joke. dr. fred kagan, director of the critical threats project at the american enterprise institutes. colonel derek harvey, u.s. army retired, director of the global initiative for civil society and conflict at the university of south florida. and bryant who is the senior fellow at the center for american progress.
i point out for the benefits of my colleagues that general keane and dr. kagan were key elements and the individuals who went over to the white house in 2006 to talk to then president george w. bush concerning the need for a surge. that the strategy in iraq was failing at that time and they were two of the major architects. and i know they give credit to many others, but two of the major architects of the surge which turned out to be a great sacrifice of american blood and treasure a success. the black flags of isil are now flying over yet another major iraqi city, ramadi, the capital of iraq's anbar province. and reports overnight suggest that isil controls the syrian city of palmyra as well.
this hearing does not -- is not about the fall of any one city as important as those losses are, but rather what it's revealed about the limitations of an overly constrained american air campaign. the weaknesses of iraqi force, the growing maligned role of iran, and it ineffectiveness and inadequacy of u.s. military support for iraqi and syrian partners. but most concerning it highlights the shortcomings of the administration's indecisive policy, inadequate commitment, and incoherent strategy. this misguided approach has failed to stop if not foster the expansion of isil to a dozen countries. the loss of ramadi once the symbol of iraqis working together with brave young americans in uniform to defeat al qaeda must be recognized as a significant defeat. isil's victory gives it the appearance of strength and boosts its ability to recruit more fighters while reinforcing
iran's narrative that only it and its proxies can rescue iraq. the fall of ramadi and capture by isil of american supplied military equipment is another setback for the united states and further undermines our credibility as a reliable strategic partner in the region. yet the obama administration seems unwilling or unable to grasp the strategic significance. as isil terrorists ransacked ramadi, the pentagon's news page ran a story with the headline, quote, strategy to defeat isil is working. secretary of state john kerry said, ramadi was a mere, quote target of opportunity. two days ago when a review should have been well under way to correct an incoherent strategy that is woefully under resourced, the white house press secretary said are we going to light our hair on fire every time there is a setback?
i would point out for my colleagues that maybe his hair isn't on fire, but there are bodies on fire in the streets of ramadi as we speak. the disaster of ramadi should lead to a complete overhaul of u.s. strategy. the president has stated, quote, our goal is degrading an ultimately destroying isil. but neither strategy nor resources support this goal. our efforts in iraq may actually be aggravating the conditions that gave rise to isil in the first place by relying on brutal iranian backed shiia militias and insufficiently empowering sunni iraqis. at best this increases iran's maligned influence. at worst it reinforces isil's rhetoric that it is the only force standing guns violent sectarian iranian backed militias. president obama has moved over to -- maneuvered us into the
position that sunni iraqis that we think we support iran and shiia iraqis think we support isil. but the situation is far worse in syria. the iran backed assad regime together with iranian proxies like hezbollah continues the slaughter that has killed more than 200,000 syrians and displaced 10 million more despite this tragedy, the administration has defined its policy in syria more by what it will not do rather than by the end state we aim to achieve. although the u.s. military is trained and equip program for moderate syrian forces is finally providing assistance to the fighters, the administration still has not decided whether it will defend syrian opposition against assad's barrel bombs upon their return to syria. refusing to support the forces we train is not only ineffective, it is immoral. while it is still unclear what president obama's willing to do in syria, it is clear our partners do not draw confidence
from statements of what we will not do. ramadi's fall should lead our nation's leaders to reconsider its indecisive policy and incoherent strategy that has enabled isil's expansion, undermine regional stability strengthen iran, and harmed america's credibility. what we desperately need is a comprehensive strategy, decisive application of an increase but still limited amount of u.s. military power, and a concerted effort by the iraqi government to recruit, train, and equip sunni forces. this will require discipline thinking, clear priorities, a strategy supported by adequate resources, and most of all the leadership and resolve of the president to succeed. i look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on these important questions. senator. senator reed: first let me thank the chairman for calling this timely and important hearing and also thank senator nelson for acting as a ranking member today.
i have two appropriations committee, one appropriations committee, but bank committee markup and i apologize can i not be here. with that, with your permission, mr. chairman, i'd like to yield to senator nelson. senator nelson: thank you, mr. chairman. what i'm going to do is just put my statement in the record so we can get on to it. what you underscore is certainly accurate. the fall of ramadi, what is the government going to do? do they have the capability of getting sunnis to come in and take up the fight against isis? and so we need, as you-all testified to us, how far are we along in implementing the counter isis campaign in iraq?
what has the government done to empower the sunni tribes to resist isis? and what does ramadi mean about retaking mosul? and will these events force iraq's political leadership to overcome their differences in their attempts at government? so with those questions, thank you, mr. chairman. senator mccain: thank you, senator nelson. palmyra is one of the historic places on earth and this is being threatened now. we know what isis does to these antiquities. we are about to, perhaps unfortunately, see another destruction and obviously irreplaceable historic heritage site.
it would be another great tragedy along the lines of the destruction of the buddhist statutes years ago. welcome to the witnesses and general keane, we begin with you. general keane: thank you chairman mccain and ranking member reed and senator nelson distinguished members of the committee. appreciate you inviting me back to testify. was here a few months ago dealing with global security challenges facing the united states. and i must say i was pretty impressed with the bipartisan support for the challenges our country's facing and the way you are willing to work together to come to grips with it. i wanted to be here with my distinguished colleagues. obviously i know fred kagan very well. long and close associates. as much as fred and i may have had impact on the previous administration in changing their strategy, and there were others working towards that end as well, harvey sitting here was
the catalyst for understanding the enemy. he was pushing against the intelligence group think that existed at the time. and he defined that enemy better than anybody did in this town. and that was the beginning of understanding what was happening to us. why it was happening. and what fred and i thought we could realistically do about it. i'm honored to be here with all of them. i got some maps up there you may want to use to get a reference. it's always good to see where things are happening to understand the scale and magnitude. approximately nine months ago the president announced the united states public policy -- senator mccain: could you give me a second. i don't think we have -- general keane: approximately nine months ago the president announced public policy that along with our coalition partners, the united states would degrade and ultimately
destroy isis. weeks later he changed destroy isis to defeat, more appropriate term. a strategy was crafted to accomplish this objective which consisted among some things as humanitarian assistance, undermining the isis ideology, counter the finances, providing military assistance to our iraqi partners to include air strikes into syria, and assist in the iraqi government politically to move toward a more representative government, which actually obviously led to a change in governments. i cannot address undermining the ideology and finances in this testimony. it's beyond my expertise. while there has been some progress and some success, looking at this strategy today we know now that the conceptual plan is fundamentally flawed. the resources provided to support iraq are far from adequate. the timing and urgency to provide arms, equipment, and training is insufficient. and as such, we are not only
failing, we are in fact losing this war. moreover, i can say with certainty that this strategy will not defeat isis. as to the concept, isis who is headquartered in syria recruits, trains, and resupplies in syria, controls large swaths of territory in syria, and you can look at your map there to take a look at that. to include the entire euphrates river valley in syria from iraq to the turkish border. it connects now to the euphrates river valley which leads to the suburbs of baghdad and currently expanding to the west as far as damascus, and they just seized as the chairman mentioned, palmyra city and air base in central city, syria, aligning the central east-west corridor from iraq all the way to homes in the west and syria.
and yet, and yet we have no strategy to defeat isis in syria. we have no ground force which is the defeat mechanism. yes, we have airpower and despite the success at kobhani and yes we have degraded isis command and control in syria and we have killed many isis fighters, but airpower would not defeat isis. it has not been able to deny isis freedom of maneuver and the ability to attack at will. syria is isis' sanctuary. we cannot succeed in iraq if isis is allowed to maintain that sanctuary in syria. we need a strategy now to defeat isis in syria. as you can see on the map that deals with the global rings, take a look at that, many isis -- on that isis map, isis is expanding beyond iraq and syria into sinai, yemen, libya, and afghanistan. this is where they actually have
people on the ground and they have actually provided resources and they have actually have a contract, written and signed with the people on the ground who are affiliated with them. and they are also inspiring and motivating radical sympathizers throughout the world which are depicted in that map on yellow as we are painfully aware of in europe and the united states and australia. yet there is no strategy with our allies to counter that expansion. i would go further to say there is no strategy to counter the destabilization of the middle east. as to iraq, it certainly makes sense to assist iraq in reclaiming lost territory and avoid deploying u.s. ground combat units. however, isis, despite some setbacks, is on the offense. with the ability to attack at will any place, any time and particularly the fall of ramadi has exposed the weakness of the
current iraq strategy. it is more than just a setback. politically, the administration deserves credit for helping to usher out the maliki government and bring the new government in. however abadi is isolated, undermined by maliki who is still and remains a nefarious character and others within abadi's own party. he's unduly influenced by iran and the united states is not nearly as consequential as it should be. a u.s. objective should be politically to reduce iran's influence. we need a focused diplomatic and political effort with the abadi government with the best people we have available to do it. militarily, clearly the iraqi army is a serious problem. while somehow have fought heroically, many have not. there are serious leadership discipline, morale, and
competence issues. this will take time to fix. but if we believe that iraq is important to u.s. security, then we must help them fix it. and it will take many more trainers and a much more concerted effort to put in the best leaders available. the sunni tribal force is almost nonexistent. yet we cannot reclaim the sunni territory that has been lost particularly anbar province and mosul, we cannot hold the territory after we have reclaimed it if we do not have a sunni tribal force. the abadi government must authorize this force and the united states should arm, equip, and train it. they must know that the iraqi government and united states is behind them. right now they know the iraqi government is not. their families are being killed by the hundreds, eventually by the thousands, and they are disillusioned by the united states in terms of its lack of support.
they are skilled, will, they will fight. they need arms and they need advisors down at the fighting level to assist them with planning execution and call in air strikes. the shiia militia a largely protecting baghdad. most of what isis owns is sunni territory. if we use the shiia militia to reclaim that territory and hold it, iran has undue influence in iraq as a result of it and the sunni people will suffer under the hand and gun of the shiia militia. we must in fact reduce their influence. the role of the advisors advisors are only at brigade headquarters and above currently. this is flawed. advisor teams must be with the units that are fighting at least at the battalion level which is what we did in the past so successfully. advisors as the name implies helps units plan and executes and also builds their confidence in themselves. they are also forward air
controllers and can direct airpower as well as attack helicopters. the war in iraq is largely close combat urban warfare which demands the bombs be guided from our airplanes to the ground by people on the ground. 75% of the sorties that we are currently running with our attack aircraft come back without dropping bombs mostly because they cannot acquire the target or properly identify the target. forward air controllers fix that problem. special operation forces direct action teams. should be employed not as an exception, which is what we successfully saw this last weekend in syria with the raid but routinely in iraq and syria against the isis leadership and critical infrastructure. similar to what we have done in iraq and afghanistan in the past
during the surges, when fred and i were there, as well as colonel harvey, we averaged the surges in iraq and afghanistan, we averaged somewhere between eight and 10 of these operations at night. when a raid was taking place in pakistan there wra nine going on in afghanistan that very night. we should also do large-scale raids. what does that mean? we should use elements like rangers to conduct attacks at night over critical infrastructure that kill isis fighters who are difficult to dig out with airpower at altitude. these are surprise attacks. they are not intended to stay. they are in and out maybe one night we stay at the most a couple days depending how much of a fight we are getting into. we desperately need enablers to assist the iraqi security forces. this is crucial support that helps them succeed on the battlefield. what is it?
robust intelligence capability. we have some but we must ramp it up. increased u.a.v.'s, not assist airpower which we are currently doing in terms of surveillance but to assist ground forces. that's a different application and it's a different type of u.a.v. we need attack aviation. that's apache helicopters. and we need other helicopters to assist the ground forces. transports to move troops and supplies and other logistic support. and we need increased u.s. command and control headquarters to help control the increased of trainers, advisors, and others that i'm suggesting here. obviously what i am suggesting is increased u.s. political and military involvement in iraq which begins to shore up many of the weaknesses of the current strategy. while i believe we can still do this without u.s. and ally combat brigades, it is much more difficult now than what it was nine months ago.
lieve we have to to some -- have to do some serious contingency planning for the introduction of ground combatbury gadse both u.s. and -- of ground combat brigades both u.s. and allied. finally, we need to get past our political psychosis on iraq, which is defined by the questions, should the united states have gone into iraq in 2003? should the united states have left iraq in 2011? while they were crucial u.s. policy decisions, there is -- and there's much to learn from them, and we have we've got to , get past it. isis is much more than iraq. our forces should be what the -- our focus should be what the president started out with defeating isis. that will take political will, and war is a test of will. it will take accepting risk. it will take accepting casualties. it will take focus and it will take increased u.s. resources --
and it will take honest evaluations and assessments. what i fear is this -- i hear a disturbing and frightening echo of the summer of 2006, when administration -- when a different administration, senior government officials, and military senior generals came before this committee and in the face of compelling evidence that our strategy in iraq was failing, these officials looked at you and defended that strategy and told you that overall the strategy was succeeding. you and your predecessors took a strong bipartisan exception to those opinions. many as a result of it wanted to give up on iraq. others wanted to do something about fixing the problem. i hope you choose the latter and get on with helping to fix the problem.
and i look forward to your questions. thank you. senator mccain: dr. kagan. mr. kagan: thank you for calling this hearing and thank you to so many for attending. it shows a sense of urgency about the problem on the part of this committee that's hard to detect in the rest of the administration. so i'm grateful to the committee as always for the opportunity to speak, but for the attention that it's trying to focus on this problem. i receive every day a superb daily rollup of activities in the region, produced by the team. i can't read it all. it's too long. it's too long because the region is engulfed in war. it's sort of hard to tell that from the isolated headlines that
pop up and fade away, but we -- this is the regional war. this is the beginning of the regional war. it can get a lot worse, but this is a war that is becoming a sectarian war across the region. it is a war between saudi arabia and iran, fought largely by proxies but now, dismayingly also directly. there are some people who think it's a good thing that the saudis and others are acting independently. i would suggest that they take a look at the historical efficacy of saudi military forces and ask themselveses if they think that's a reed we want to rest our weight on and i think we can focus too heavily on what the iraqi security forces are doing or not doing, as we have in the past.
they're not doing enough, prime minister abadi is in a box. we have helped put him there with our policies. so it's not sufficient just to look at and criticize what the iraqis are doing. we really do need to look in a mirror and look at what we are doing or not doing. as i follow the daily reports, i see a coherent enemy strategy across the region. i see deliberate enemy operations which you can actually depict on a map, and i commend to you a terrific report called "isis captures ramadi," a military style map which shows isis maneuvers, because they are great deal of skill. it is not an accident that ramadi fell other the weekend and palmyra fell yesterday. it is not an accident that there were isis attacks in -- that and
at the refinery, that there were threats against the pilgrimage in baghdad and then rah mue dee -- ramadi was attacked and taken. this was a coherent campaign plan, and a very intelligent one, very well executed. this is a serious threat. what i can't discern from the daily operations, let alone from the statements of the administration is any coherent american strategy to respond to this threat. and i want to talk about the threat for a minute. isis is one of the most evil organizations that has ever existed in the world. announcer: we really have to reckon with that. this is not a minor annoyance. this is not a group that maybe we can negotiate with down the road someday. this is a group that is committed to the destruction of everything decent in the world and the evidence of that is the wanton destruction, uncalled for even by their own ideology
frankly, of antiquities thousands of years old that represent the heart of the emergence of human civilization in the west. this is a group that sells captives into slavery, it's a major source of financing for them actually. this is a group that engages deliberately in mass rape. this is a group that conducts mass murder. and this is a group that is calling for and condoning and supporting and encouraging lone wolf attacks and it will soon, i think, not be just lone wolf attacks, in the united states and the west. this is a group of unfathomable evil and they are extremely effective and have a degree of military capability, not terrorist capability, that we have not seen before in an al qaeda organization. this is not something where we
should be spectators. this is not something where we should just say, as some people do, well, just let them kill each other. this is unacceptable. from a moral perspective and from a u.s. national security perspective, to just watch a group like this succeed in this way. i want to make a point that any criticism of the white house today, at least from our side, is perceived as a partisan attack and i want to make the point that if that was the case, i must have been a democrat in 2006. because we were attacking the bush administration with the senator -- with the chairman and a number of other members of the committee, as aggressively or in fact more aggressively than we've every critiqued this white house. the fact is, what matters is that the strategy is failing, as it was failing in 2006, only we
were in a much worse strategic position today than we ever were in 2006 because it's not just iraq. i note that, to speak of the issue of urgency, the iranians seem to feel a certain sense of urgency about this as well. and their minister of defense, general dagan, was in baghdad over the last few days, signing defense cooperation agreements ostensibly, but surely working to coordinate iranian support on the ground. the foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader was in damascus and beirut talking with bashar al-assad, no doubt coordinating plans to, i assume, maintain and increase the military deployment of hezbollah forces in syria and possibly ask assad what his plan is given the circumstances. those are very senior leaders. i don't notice that we have sent
senior leaders of that rank or anything close to it to speak with prime minister abadi and of course we have no one to speak with, effectively, in syria. senator nelson asked about what this means for the counterisis campaign. it means the campaign that has been described by the administration and our general officers is completely derailed. i do not blove that there is any reasonable prospect that it will be possible to retake mosul this year. i think the fight for ramadi will be hard enough. i think that these operations in and around ramadi demonstrate that the iraqi scufert forces at -- the security forces at current levels of u.s. support are not capable even of defending their territory against a determined isis attack, let alone clearing a major isis safe haven. so we are -- our campaign strategy is completely derailed, in my view.
i think it was a campaign strategy as the chairman pointed out, that was of limited likelihood to be successful in any event because it addressed only part of the problem and left a major safe haven effectively untouched. but such as it was, it's over. my colleague, derek harvey, will speak in more detail about what kinds of troops are required. i agree with general keane, and i'm willing to put a number of the -- on the table, i think we need a total of 10,000 to 15,000 troops to have necessary forces in the area. and i think we need to do that. i think otherwise we're looking at an isis state that is going to persist. we're looking at an isis state that is going to continue to govern territory, that is going to continue to have resources that we simply cannot afford to let an evil enemy of this
variety have. i think it is a major u.s. national security priority to respond to this. especially as it's become clear that it's beyond the capabilities of the iraqis. and lastly, i want to make two larger points that are directly relevant to this committee. one is, you cannot argue for a forceful strategy in iraq and defend the sequester. our armed forces have been seriously damaged by the sequester. it needs to be removed immediately. in fact, the armed forces budget needs to be increased significantly. we are at war whether we like it or not and the longer this president refuses to address it, the worse it's going to be when we become engaged. we need to be preparing for that now. lastly, we need to be strengthening our abilities to collect intelligence and not weakening them. this is not the moment that this -- to dismantle our capabilities to see what our enemy is doing. this is the moment to be engaged in wise reform of oversight of the intelligence community and
so it is ironic that one of your colleagues spent yesterday arguing for the elimination of a program important to our national security. so i think there are things that the administration can do and things that congress can do but it's going to be a tough fight. i thank the committee for listening to me this morning. senator mccain: colonel harvey. colonel harvey: thank you for having me here. i want to begin by focusing on the islamic state and the trends in iraq. i believe that even before the fall of ramadi, the best that could be said is that baghdad was holding the line. even with his success and to create -- into crete -- in
tikrit isis has worked their way back. they changed their profile, went to ground and now they're infiltrating back in and conducting atacks and rebuilding capabilities. over the past month, they've continued to do shaping western baghdad. in one day, just a couple of days ago, they were eight i.e.d.'s several small arms skirmishes in baghdad itself that, that's to say nothing about what's going on in abu ghraib and other areas around the belt of baghdad. they continue to hold the line along the kurdish front north in the anyone ve area the nineveh area, and they've expanded successfully in other areas, particularly syria. they're very good at shaping operation. they are taking advantage of their interior lines of communication.
they are well armed, well resourced and well lead. i think the fall of ramadi should lead to questions about the progress asserted by the pentagon and the administration. there are two strategically important sunni-arab cities in iraq, mosul, the second largest city, a former ottoman capital andra mahdi, the capital of the largest geographic province. the fall of ramadi renews the sense that isis has momentum which is important for rallying sunni arabs who may be on the fence in this fight and could aid with foreign fighter recruitment and some funding. with all of -- without an alternative, sunni arabs tribes and peoples in the region, , without someone to protect and lead them, are going to fall into the camp of the islamic state, particularly as this campaign becomes increasingly polarized and the movement of shia militias, popular mobilization units into anbar
province will contribute to this polarization. i fully expect that the islamic state in the near future will try to conduct operations to further inflame this fight. that is part of their major strategy, to polarize this fight between the different communities. now i would note that isis has many challenges and weaknesses but the problem is that isis is not losing. i believe that the u.s. has continued to underestimate the islamic state which i suspect , shows a lack of understanding about the islamic state its , capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and how it sees the fight and a path to victory. we've seen this story before. it's like deja vu for me. we focus too much on our own activity, our own programs, our own budgets but we're not , focusing on the impact on the enemy and the enemy has a vote. from public statements, we're not looking at the right things.
in the metrics and measures that are asserted by the military the pentagon, are not really appropriate. the number of air strikes is interesting but irrelevant. what is the effect on the enemy? and its capacity to fight? stating that isis has lost 25% of the territory it conquered is interesting but not really relevant because isis did not control eastern saladin or some of the other areas, because they're still there. they're contesting and rebuilding and they're shaping. so that's a false metric that's been put out. striking oil infrastructure in syria is a good thing. it's been degraded but the enemy has a vote. their efforts there are have been complicated, they've reduced production but they've adapted and creatively, they've developed miniature mobile refinement capabilities even using blow drier air heaters to make refined product. it is crude, yet it's a sophisticated adaptation.
and crude is still going to turkey and they're reproducing enough fuel for their own requirements. they are still earning millions of dollars every month from oil in syria. it's been degraded but i think the lower cost of oil on the markets has had just as much of an impact as any operations we have conducted and again, they have adapted. the same for funding and foreign fighter flow. they are still very resilient and adaptive in working around the actions that have been taken and the actions that have been taken on foreign fighter flow and going after finances have been weak and not very assertive, not well resourced and i'll talk more about that. isis is excelling at a hybrid war. announcer: they're fighting conventionally if needed, they're adapting and they're employing terrorist attacks, coercion, assassination, subversion as necessary depending on the
terrain. it is showing that it can hold key terrain, fight hard, and synchronize operations across space and time. and they respond with the agility to secure tactical and operational advantages. they are effective and well led. they are skilled, and they have professional quality leadership in command and control, and they know the geography, they know the terrain and they know the human terrain in these areas very, very well. they are ruthless and they are committed and determined. they are exhibiting the will to fight. they're fighting for power, they're fighting for ideological reasons, but for many sunni ashes angered about their condition in life, they are fighting for their land, their families and their future. they are not motivated by a hard line annihilation usist agenda but
they're fighting anyway because they're fighting for their own lives and their own future. and they're fearful. there are many sunni military age males to date who have not taken sides in this fight. it's just a matter of time if this polarization continues and we let this drag on that isis will gain more and more recruits from the iraqi population base. the iraqi fight with isis is not dominating by foreign fighters. this is a homegrown fight. we have to keep that in mind. isis, as fred mentioned, maintains operational freedom in most of the sunni provinces and they appear strongly because importantly, relatively, their opposition is very weak. now, the sunni arab political and tribal leaders are weak and divided and seen as illegitimate by many within the sunni arab provinces. and too many sunni ashes are on the fence. they've been given no reason to come onto the side of the
baghdad government or to come to us. the prime minister's government is weak and divided and is increasingly undermined by shia opposition. same for the iraqi security forces that are small, weak, poorly resourced, and not well led. and it will take far too long to train and rebuild them to make a difference this year. moreover, i assess that there's a concerted effort to undermine the efficacy of the iraqi security forces by shia militias, iranian proxies and some members within the government. particularly some members in the ministry of interior. they seek to weaken the iraqi security forces and provide alternative institutions of power that they control. and again, the coalition is weak , and we can talk about that but there's not a lot of allied cooperation and resources put into this fight. and lastly, the u.s. lines of operation for the most part have been poorly resourced, both in
theater and at the interagency level here in washington, d.c. i do not see the urgency or the resourcing within treasury or the intelligence community or others to really energize and aggressively go after this fight in this region. so, although u.s. air strikes, i believe, have complicated the isis operations, the air campaign has not been decisive. it's been relatively small and limited and the islamic state, as i mentioned, has been adaptive and creative. importantly, they remained well armed and well resourced and our lines of operation, be it counter finance, counter foreign fighter flow, delegitimizing the brand, the training and building of the i.s.f. and the military campaign at
best appear disjointed, poorly resourced and lack an effective framework to bring it all together. i think we need to relook this and with that, i look forward to your questions. mr. mccain: thank you. mr. catullas. mr. catullas: thank you, mr. chairman, senator nelson senators. it's an honor to be here today. mr. chairman, your efforts to raise our national security debate have been incredible and very important. everything that the members of the committee have been doing. i have been very important for our country as we look at the world and not just the middle east. mr. chairman, i prepared written testimony, with your permission i'd like to submit that for the record. mr. mccain: without objection. mr. katulis: what i wanted to do this morning with my remarks is
try to complement their insights with what i focus on in my own work, which is looking at the dynamics within the region and the strategic dynamics and the problems of isis and syria within that. mr. chairman, you said at the outset beforehand that you'd like to discuss concrete steps. so while i give my analysis of what i think is happening in iraq, syria, the region and more broadly, i'll offer some ideas that i hope we can discuss, some of which i think members of the panel have proposed in legislation. the way i see the challenge, and i don't disagree with much of what was said here earlier, the challenge of isis, i think operates on three different levels or three concentric circles. the first is iraq and syria, obviously. that's where the devastation has been astounding over the last few years. and many of the steps, i think that have been proposed here in terms of security measures and
security cooperation measures is something that i frankly, it's a little outside of my expertise to evaluate. i look at the political and strategic dynamics. but i do think inside of iraq, no matter what we've done or what we do, in the coming years, every type of security assistance should be implemented with a close eye to internal political power dynamics. at this stunning moment, and what happened in ramadi i think should shock everybody, we announcer:e should keep an eye on these measures of what we need to do announcer: to help our iraqi partners on the security front but understand what we have learned over the last 10 years plus is
that the political dynamics are terribly important. in those regards, what i think we need to do, and the obama administration needs to do, is hold the iraqi government accountable for a lot of the ideas that have been discussed in terms of armed surges, tribes, building a national guard. if you look at what the obama administration did last summer and i was -- i'm a supporter of this somebody, using security -- of this measure, using security as a -- as leverage to get a different type of government, we need to continue that process. when the police in ramadi were not being funded, when concepts like the national guard were still stuck in parliament, it makes it hard for any number of u.s. trainers to actually do their job if those mechanisms aren't in place. second, i think we need to start entertaining, i know people are discussing this, the notion of greater decentralization inside iraq, greater decentralization of authority. some of the proposals people have discussed about mechanisms for getting arms to sunni tribes or kurdish forces. again, i think we should consider that and balance it against the overall objective of trying to keep iraq together. the second component, obviously, is syria.
and this in my view is the weakest link in the overall approach in this first circle. mr. chairman, senator keane, many others have highlighted this but we need to do something about this. the gap between the obama administration's stated goals and what we're actually doing to shape the veerment on the ground -- the environment on the ground is alarming. in my view, we need to accelerate that which the administration proposed and you funded. the training and equiping of third way forces. we need to link these efforts to the broader regional dynamics. what's happening in syria right now is a complicated engagement by actors in the region. if you see not only isis' gains but the gains of al nusra, al qaeda's front, these gains don't come from nowhere. they're being offered support by actors in the region. the main point is that the end state in syria, often described by the administration in ways
that our tactics don't link up with what we want to achieve. but the overall point in this first circle, iraq and syria which i hope you take away and i think we need to discuss some more is how do you link these problems and how do we address them? what worries me is quite often we look at a challenge in iraq or a corner in iraq, but don't link it to the broader problem of iraq and syria. last summer, isis effectively eroded the borders between these two countries. what we've had other the last year or so is a debate over a series of different tactics, some of which have been implemented and some have not. i think if we can all bring our thinking together to talk about how do we actually have an integrated strategy that focuses on isis, both in iraq and syria. on the second level, the
regional level, and here i hope we can think a little bit more about this but for essentially the last four or five years, the middle east has slipped into a period of fragmentation. not only has iraq and syria -- syrian state structures collapsed, we have seen syria and yemen feel these strains. it's a struggle between the regional powers, iran and saudi arabia but there are other actors too. much of it is sectarian but the conflict is multidimensional. it is multifaceted. our resources matter but iran, saudi arabia, others have been funding their own proxies. and what i think is missing in terms of the u.s. leadership on all of this is accounting for all of these efforts. how do we actually better organize and come up with a better strategic conception. essentially since 2003 and the iraq war, when we made the decision to move from a strategic posture of dual containment of iran and iraq, i think we've been struggling for what is our overarching strategy in the middle east. we made some gains at certain
periods as was noted in the surge in iraq in 2007-2008. but the picture of what is the united states trying to do in the region, i think, still, that question has not been answered. i think the obama administration rightfully has taken some positive steps in the right direction. the building of an anti-isil coalition that has 62 countries in it, including key stake holders in the region is an important opportunity, one that i don't think has been fully seized yet by the administration. its engagement in that coalition effort has been episodic. in february, we had a counterering violent extremism summit and the questions of what then after the summit, i think remain unanswered to a large extent. just last week was a very important summit with the g.c.c. nations and i think an important communique. as with everything in life and with this administration the followup is going to be very important. those commitments not only to iraq and inside syria there
needs to be broader implementation. finally, one last point on the equilibrium point is the question of equilibrium in the broader region. the obama administration often speaks of its engagement with iran and diplomatic engagement on the nuclear front as an opportunity to achieve some new type of equib librium in the -- equilibrium in the region. i share that aspiration but we need to be clear-eyed about how hard that will be at a time when iran, when other actors in the region, are actually investing in a number of different proxy wars. we need to be clear about how realistic that is and what we're trying to do. and on the final point,en the -- on the international level and i'll close here, quite clearly this problem of isis is connected in ways that the problems that derek and general keane dealt with in the previous decade, it's much more complicated by the fact that you have more than 15,000 foreign fighters flooding into and
perhaps the number is higher. what i would suggest at the international level and our analysis is that the debate about isis is terribly important but it's moving very quickly. the debate that many people are having on syria right now is the fight between al nustra and isil and a number of different actors. i would say that 14 years of after 9/11, nearly 14 years if you look at the broader landscape beyond iraq and syria, iraq and syria as the epicenter, this new trend toward jihadism and the growth of it is something we haven't wrestled with. we need to widen the landscape and keep focused on it to assess what we're doing and whether we're apply regular sources to -- applying resources to meet those threats. in conclusion, i hope the events of the last week or so, and i hope our discussion today is a constructionive wakeup call to move from what i think has been a largely reactive crisis management and somewhat tactical approach to the problems that not only over the last year or two but over the last decade.
and i hope the events can mote -- motivate all of us, include you with your lead ship, to draw toward the source of unity. like the authorization for the use of military force. like a national conversation that reinvigorates our sense of purpose because as derek and others have described this is a dangerous adversary. we have not yet created that strategy to actually defeat them and we can. thank you. senator mccain: could i mention to my colleagues, a vote is on. if you'd like to go and come back, please do so. i'll try to continue the hearing, i may have to pause but i know that you have questions for the panel so maybe we could work it that way. however you'd like. and i'd like to begin by picking up a little bit on what mr. katulis just said.
this is the whole idea of the perception of iran and what the prospects are because it seems to me that -- and the necessity to be clear-eyed about it because it seems to me that one of the reasons why we are not acting more aggressively against bashir assad has got to do with this idea or in my view, illusion, that once we conclude the nuclear agreement, there will be a whole new relationship with iran in the middle east which my conversations with our friends in the sunni ashe states -- sunni arab states scares the heck out of them and so maybe i can ask the panel about, it seems to me in my view that it is a real impediment to any real
significant action in syria. for example, the free syrian army, what little areas we are training, we have not told -- the administration has said there's no policy yet about when we send these young men that we are training back into syria whether we would protect them from bashir assad's barrel bombing. it seems to me that there's a degree of immorality associated with telling people you're going to train and equip them and then not protect them from being killed when they go back in and that they are only to fight isis and not bashir assad. the father of isis. so maybe begin with you, general keane, because i don't think that americans are fully aware of this contradiction here. mr. keane: i agree in principle with what you're saying.
just so our audience and the committee can understand, we may forget that early on in the move -- rebellion against assad, the momentum was on the opposition force's side. many in this town were predicting the regime would fall. i think we can all recall that. senator mccain: there was testimony before this committee by the secretary of defense and joint chiefs of staff. general keane: they needed arms specifically, antiaircraft weapons to deal with mitchell military. they were stuck with rifles, machine gun, r.p.g.'s and the like. that early encounter for the 2012 was denied, late 2011