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GOP to Obama: Boots on the ground must be an option against the Islamic State

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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee warned the Obama administration Thursday that the House will not support a new Authorization for Use Military Force to fight the Islamic State that bans the use of U.S. ground troops, and said attempts to include this limitation will fail.

President Barack Obama is expected to ask Congress for an updated AUMF to fight the terrorist group, and continues to insist that no U.S. ground troops will be used in that fight.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 10.39.25 AM Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, was told by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), right, that the House won't support a military plan against the Islamic State that doesn't include a ground troops option.
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

That limitation has angered Republicans, who have said the administration's strategy is not one that can defeat the Islamic State. While administration officials have said they want to rely on Syrian troops to fight the terrorist group, also known as ISIL, even those officials have admitted those troops aren't ready yet.

At a Thursday hearing, Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said continuing the fight without at least having the option of ground troops is setting up the U.S. military for failure.

"We may very well be considering a new AUMF in the near future, but I would offer a warning that, should the AUMF proposed by the president contain such limitations, it will be D.O.A. in Congress," McKeon warned in his prepared remarks. "I will not support sending our military into harm's way with their arms tied behind their backs."

McKeon said U.S. airstrikes have become less effective against the Islamic State, and said the several hundred U.S. troops that are in the Middle East are ineffective in their advisory role.

"[L]imiting our advisors to headquarters buildings will not help newly trained Iraqi and Syrian opposition forces hold terrain, much less defeat ISIL in the field," McKeon said. "Yet, the president has doubled down on his policy of 'no boots on the ground,' despite any advice you give him."

In his own prepared remarks, however, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicated that he too supports the idea of banning U.S. ground troops from the effort.

"These additional troops and facilities will help strengthen and reconstitute Iraqi forces…expanding the geography of our mission, but not the mission itself," he said. "U.S. military personnel will not be engaged in a ground combat mission."

McKeon's comments are a sign that it could become very difficult for Congress and the White House to agree on the terms for fighting the Islamic State. Republican leadership of the Senate, which will happen in the next Congress early next year, is likely to make the process even more difficult for the Obama administration.

Hazel's testimony said the U.S. is now "three months into a multi-year effort," and said the administration is seeking $5.6 billion to fight the Islamic State in 2015. Most of that will be used to support U.S. military efforts, but up to $2.2 billion of it would go to support Iraqi forces.

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