Boehner: US May ‘Have No Choice’ About Boots on Ground in Syria, Iraq

By Patrick Goodenough | September 29, 2014 | 4:47am EDT

President Obama has repeatedly stated that U.S. combat forces will not be used against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists. (Photo: U.S. Central Command)

( – House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday the U.S. may ultimately “have no choice” but to send combat troops to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), contending that relying on airstrikes will not be enough to defeat the terrorists.

“If the goal is to destroy ISIS, as the president says it is, I don’t believe the strategy that he outlined will accomplish that,” Boehner said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to take more than air strikes to drive them out of there. At some point somebody’s boots have to be on the ground,” he said. “That’s the whole point.”

Asked by George Stephanopoulos whether those boots would be American, Boehner said, “Listen, the president doesn’t want to do that. If I were the president, I probably wouldn’t have talked about what I wouldn’t do. And maybe we can get enough of these forces trained to get them on the battlefield. But somebody's boots have to be there.”

“And if no one else will step up,” Stephanopoulos asked, “would you recommend putting American boots on the ground?”

“We have no choice,” Boehner replied. “These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re going to pay the price.”

Boehner said he believes that President Obama does have the legal authority to pursue the offensive against ISIS – as the administration maintains – but that if the president wanted a new resolution, “I’d bring the Congress back” from campaigning ahead of the mid-term election to debate it.

Obama repeatedly has stated that U.S. combat forces will not be used against ISIS; in a new opinion poll released Sunday, 72 percent of respondents said the U.S. will end up using American combat forces against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Forty-five percent of respondents in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said they would be in favor of U.S. troops on the ground if American military commanders determined that was the best way to defeat ISIS. Thirty-seven percent said they would be opposed.

The military aspect of Obama’s declared strategy to defeat ISIS involves airstrikes by U.S. and partner nations, support for Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground in Iraq, and support for “moderate” rebels on the ground in Syria.

“As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” he told military personnel on September 17. “After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures.”

“We’ll use our air power. We will train and equip our partners. We will advise them and we will assist them.  We will lead a broad coalition of countries who have a stake in this fight.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Capitol Hill that if the approach against ISIS was not successful he would recommend to the president that U.S. ground forces be used.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates then said that “there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy.” By repeatedly ruling out that possibility, Gates said, “the president, in effect, traps himself.”

Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the following day that in his efforts to build an anti-ISIS coalition, the U.S. had asked no nation to provide combat troops.

“At this moment, no country has been asked to put boots on the ground nor no country is talking of it,” he said. “And we don’t think it’s a good idea right now. So there’s no discussion of that at this moment.”

Since August 8 the U.S. has carried out more than 200 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, and over the past week, together with Arab partners, has launched around 50 strikes in Syria.

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