House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Friday said the U.S. must either help stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from taking over Iraq, or watch the group establish safe havens in that country from which it can plan attacks against the U.S. and Europe.
“I think we have to do something,” Rogers said on NBC’s Today Show. “You have to stop and slow their momentum.”
ISIS forces are thought to be about an hour from Baghdad. The group’s takeover of Mosul this week, and its looting of nearly $500 million in that city, put immediate pressure on the Obama administration to involve the U.S. military in a country from which President Barack Obama withdrew all U.S. forces in 2011.
Obama on Thursday said is not ruling out any options to aid Iraq, but officials stressed that so far, inserting ground troops is not being seen as an option. That leaves open the possibility of air strikes and other actions, and Rogers on Friday indicated other options that could be taken.
“I think there are some interim steps that we can take, including possible air support for operations in Iraq,” he said. “And there are intelligence packages, and robust training of certain types of forces that we can do very quickly to get them back into the fight to try to turn the tide of what is really Al Qaeda moving out and holding more ground than we’ve every seen them hold. That’s dangerous.”
ISIS is an Al Qaeda offshoot, and Rogers said the group aims to consolidate territory in Iraq, and then use that territory to train people for attacks against the U.S. and Europe.
“They’re getting stronger by the day,” he said. “They’re getting weapons, they’re getting money, that gives them huge swaths of land to train Al Qaeda operatives to come over to the United States or Europe or somewhere else.”
Rogers said allowing ISIS to expand unchecked would go against U.S. counterterrorism policy, which is to “deny them safe haven, continue to disrupt their operations.”
Rogers is not the only member of Congress calling for action against ISIS. Late Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called for drone strikes against ISIS forces.
“Only the Iraqis can control their future,” he said. “But if we don’t want to see an Iraq with large swaths of territory under militant control, and we shouldn’t, we should answer Iraqi requests to target these Al-Qaeda terrorists with drone strikes.”
Republicans also had sharp criticism for the Obama administration for what they say was the political decision to leave Iraq in 2011, and the absence of earlier steps to keep ISIS in check. Royce said it’s “baffling” that the administration has not targeted ISIS with drones yet.
On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of “taking a nap” while the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a feisty speech in which he said he and others warned that leaving Iraq in 2011 would lead to this sort of instability.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, said it’s not the responsibility of the United States to intervene in Iraq again.