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House Republican leader says ground troops may be needed in Iraq

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FILE - This July 31, 2014 file photo shows House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. on Capitol Hill in Washington. Raul Garcia has a question for Kevin McCarthy, the House’s No. 2 Republican: “While we are waiting for you on immigration reform, who should be harvesting America’s food?” It’s a provocative query and the foundation of Garcia’s long-shot challenge to McCarthy, a three-term incumbent who rose to power after another GOP leader thought unsinkable, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, fell to an unknown candidate in a primary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File\n

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday wrote that the U.S. may have to insert ground troops in Iraq in order to fight the Islamic State, a call that many Republicans have hinted at but have not made explicitly.

"The reality is that airstrikes alone may not get the job done and we should acknowledge this reality," McCarthy wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. "Certainly we will not reoccupy Iraq, but some special operations forces may be necessary to supplement our airpower and augment the capabilities of moderate indigenous forces we want to see ascendant when the smoke clears."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote Friday that ground troops may be needed to fight the Islamic State. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

"We must not take options off the table against a brutal and determined enemy," he said.

McCarthy's phrasing is one of the more explicit calls for ground troops that any Republican has made over the last few weeks. While many Republicans have criticized the Obama administration's plan to boost airstrikes against the Islamic State and count on ground forces from other countries, most have not said clearly that the answer is returning U.S. ground forces to Iraq.

Last week, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hinted at the need for U.S. troops by saying "an F-16 is not a strategy," and that "somebody's boots have to be on the ground," but didn't go further.

James Baker, former secretary of State under President George W. Bush, has said "some forces on the ground" might be needed to capitalize on U.S. airstrikes.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said Obama should not be saying out loud that the U.S. won't send in troops, but has shied away from saying explicitly that U.S. ground troops are needed.

So far, President Barack Obama has insisted that no U.S. ground troops will be sent to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State. But Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said this week that if things change on the ground, he may have to recommend ground troops, a comment that made many Democrats nervous.

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