HELENA — Disagreeing with President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke said Wednesday it will take ground operations for the U.S. armed forces to defeat ISIS terrorists in the Middle East.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the president “urged Congress to authorize military action against terrorists who are cutting a swath across the Middle East” but “ruled out large-scale U.S. ground combat operations reminiscent of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The AP quoted White House spokesman Josh Earnest as saying the administration’s proposal was intentionally ambiguous regarding ground troops to give the president some flexibility “in other more limited circumstances.” The AP said these include “rescue missions, intelligence collection and the use of special operations forces in possible military action against Islamic State leaders.”
In an interview, Zinke, a freshman in the House, said he believes Congress does need to authorize action, but said ground troops are necessary.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, said he was proud to be invited to join top House Republican House leaders who met Tuesday night with some of Obama’s senior advisers.
“I’m always very concerned when we put troops in harm’s way that they have the right leadership, training, equipment and the right rules of engagement to win decisively on the field.”
In the case of ISIS, Zinke said he is “reluctant to tie our troops’ hands behind their back so they can’t win.”
“The hard facts are that air operations alone won’t degrade or defeat ISIS,” Zinke said. “It will take U.S. ground troops in the form of embedded special operations forces to ensure that our air power is effective,” Zinke said. “It will take intelligence collections to ensure that we mitigate collateral damage.”
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He added, “It will also take logistic support in the form of medical supplies and assistance, ammunition, fuel, food and likely quick reaction force.”
Zinke, who served in the SEALs for 23 years before retiring, said, “In my experience, this is not only an East and West battle. It’s also a battle within Islam. We have to ensure Islamic terrorist organizations do not become the mainstream Islam.”
As for congressional politics, Zinke said, “This is not a red or blue issue. This is a red, white and blue issue to make sure the military has the tools to win.”
Zinke said it’s important that congressional committees conduct hearings on Obama’s authorization request. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Zinke said he would participate in these hearings and looks forward to hearing from top military and policy experts.
He acknowledged there are plenty of differences of opinion in Congress over the president’s plans. The AP said some Republicans were unhappy over Obama’s decision to exclude long-term commitment of ground troops, while sine Democrats were upset that Obama “had opened the door to deployment at all.”
As a veteran and the father of a Navy diver and father-in-law of a Navy SEAL, Zinke said he knows the cost of war. If the U.S. sends in troops, it needs to give them the tools to win.
“I’m hopeful a true dialogue can take place, and I’m hopeful Congress will authorize sufficient force to defeat ISIS,” Zinke said. “It’s a global problem, not just an American problem.”
He added, “Those that believe we can control ISIS through sanctions or Jordan taking the lead is enough is utter nonsense. That does not match reality with what’s happening on the ground.”